issues and experts

Historical lead exposure linked to thousands of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease - study

March 15, 2018

A study led by health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear suggests that over 400,000 premature deaths in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease and 185,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease may be linked to historical lead exposure in people over the age of 44.

The study published by Lancet Public Health is the first to estimate the number of deaths in the U.S. from low-level lead exposure using a nationally representative sample. The researchers in this study analyzed data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 14,289 people in the U.S. aged 20 years or older between 1988 and 1994, and the end of 2011.

Their findings suggest that that low-level lead exposure, between 1.0 - 6.7 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, increases the risk of premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease. Lead exposure is linked to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and ischemic (coronary) heart disease.

“Our study estimates the impact of historical lead exposure on adults in the U.S. currently aged 44 years old or over, whose exposure to lead occurred in the years before the study began,” says Lanphear. “Today, lead exposure is lower because of regulations banning the use of lead in petrol, paints and other consumer products, so the number of deaths from lead exposure will be lower in younger generations. Still, lead represents a leading cause of disease and death, and it is important to continue our efforts to reduce environmental lead exposure.”

Link to study:

Bruce Lanphear, Health Sciences, 778.782.8650,
Justin Wong, University Communications, 778.782.3035/778.782.5151,