Study of the relationships between bone lead levels and its variation with time and the cumulative blood lead index, in a repeated bone lead survey
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The study aims were to: (i) investigate long term human lead metabolism by measuring the change of lead concentration in the tibia and calcaneus; and (ii) assess whether improved industrial hygiene was resulting in a slow accumulation of lead in an exposed workforce. 109Cd excited K X-ray fluorescence was used to measure tibia lead and calcaneus lead concentrations in 101 workers in a secondary lead smelter. 51 subjects had had similar bone lead measurements 5 years previously. Most of the other subjects had been hired since the first survey. Measurements of whole blood lead were available for the large majority of subjects. Tibia lead concentrations fell significantly (p<0.001) in the 51 subjects with repeated bone lead measurements, from a mean of 39 microg Pb (g bone mineral)(-1) to 33 microg Pb (g bone mineral)(-1). The change correlated negatively with the initial tibia lead concentration, producing an estimate for an overall half-life of 15 years, with a 95% confidence interval of 9 to 55 years. Adding continuing lead exposure and recirculation of bone lead stores to the regression models produced half-life estimates of 12 and 9 years, respectively, for release of lead from the tibia. The repeat subjects showed no net change in calcaneus lead (64 microg Pb (g bone mineral)(-1) initially, 65 microg Pb (g bone mineral)(-1) 5 years later). Subjects not measured previously had average lead concentrations of 15 microg Pb (g bone mincral)(-1) in the tibia and 13 microg Pb (g bone mineral)(-1) in the calcaneus. The rate of clearance of lead from the tibia (9 to 15 years) is towards the more rapid end of previous estimates. The lack of a significant fall in the calcaneus lead was surprising. Attempts should be made to repeat this observation. If confirmed, it would have implications for models of lead metabolism. The relatively low lead concentrations in the non-repeat subjects are reassuring. However, observation after a longer period of employment would be desirable.
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