Impact of Occupational Exposure on Lead Levels in Women
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In 1994, 207 women participated in a study designed to examine the effects of occupational exposure and various lifestyle factors on bone and blood lead levels. In vivo measurements of Pb concentrations in tibia were performed by X-ray fluorescence. All 108 former smelter employees and 99 referents provided blood samples and answered a questionnaire on lifestyle characteristics and the relevant medical history. Lead concentrations in tibia and blood were significantly higher in the exposed group. The difference in mean bone Pb concentrations of the two groups is markedly greater than the difference in the mean blood Pb concentrations, supporting the view that bone Pb measurements are a more reliable determinant of Pb body burden. Chronic exposure did not result in any statistically significant differences in adverse pregnancy outcomes. A significantly lower age at the onset of menopause in occupationally exposed women may suggest that Pb causes adverse changes in the pattern of estrus and menses. The exposed women had lower bone Pb concentrations than those found in most studies on predominantly male workers. Blood Pb concentrations remain increased in women long after the cessation of occupational exposure, reflecting the importance of the endogenous exposure. The endogenous exposure relation found for postmenopausal exposed women is consistent with data on male smelter workers, whereas the relation found for premenopausal women is significantly lower. This suggests that sex plays an important role in the metabolism of lead, and current models of exposure extrapolated from male data may be inappropriate for use on women.
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