Lead exposure linked to 412,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year

In April 2014, when municipal officials decided to save money by switching the water supply for the city of Flint, Michigan, from Lake Huron to the Flint River, residents immediately noticed that the water was discolored and smelled foul. Nonetheless, it took over a year for scientists to analyze samples and realize that the water was heavily contaminated with lead and other heavy metals. Even then, the government continued to insist that the water was safe to drink.

It was only when a brave pediatrician named Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha conducted her own tests and found that the number of kids in Flint with elevated lead levels in their blood had doubled or even tripled in some areas, and announced her findings at a press conference, that the powers that be took responsibility and started doing something about the problem.

The Huffington Post reported:

The state finally admitted that the new water wasn’t being treated properly for its higher corrosiveness, allowing lead from the city’s aging pipes to leach into the water. At least two officials resigned amid the crisis, and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and President Barack Obama have both declared states of emergency to help residents get access to clean water.

While many might view this as a tragic but isolated incident, a study recently published in the respected medical journal The Lancet, has found that residents of cities across the United States are exposed to high levels of lead, and that such exposure could be contributing to as many as 412,000 premature deaths each year.

This figure is approximately 10 times higher than what previous studies suggested, and places premature death from lead exposure almost on a par with deaths caused by smoking, which takes 483,000 American lives each year.

Lead exposure is well known for the dangers it poses to children, and Business Insider noted that while lead poisoning levels are much lower now than they were in the 1980s, around 1.2 million American children still have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Lead exposure does not only pose dangers to children, however. Researchers have also long known that there is a link between such exposure and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease in adults. The Lancet study, which was conducted by researchers from Simon Fraser University, sought to further clarify this risk, as well as the link between lead exposure and death from ischemic heart disease and all other causes of mortality.

The study examined the health outcomes of 14,289 adults over the age of 20 who were enrolled in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES-III) between 1988 and 1994, whose health was monitored until December 31, 2011.

Since lead was once pervasive in our society, being used in everything from paint to plumbing and gasoline, it lingers in the environment, and the study found that 90 percent of the participants had been exposed to elevated levels of this heavy metal. (Related: Uncover heavy metals lurking in your environment at HeavyMetals.news)

The researchers found that participants with the highest lead exposure were 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than normal, and that they were 70 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. They concluded:

Low-level environmental lead exposure is an important, but largely overlooked, risk factor for cardiovascular disease mortality in the USA. A comprehensive strategy to prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease should include efforts to reduce lead exposure. (Related: Natural remedies for lead poisoning: Cilantro, also known as coriander, naturally protects the liver and lowers lead concentrations.)

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