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Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jul;119(7):940-4. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003279. Epub 2011 Mar 17.

Prospective cohort study of lead exposure and electrocardiographic conduction disturbances in the Department of Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.



No studies have examined the association between cumulative low-level lead exposure and the prospective development of electrocardiographic conduction abnormalities, which may mediate the association between lead and several cardiovascular end points.


We prospectively examined the association between lead exposure and the development of electrocardiographic conduction abnormalities.


We assessed blood lead, bone lead--a biomarker of cumulative lead exposure--measured with K-shell X-ray fluorescence, and electrocardiographic end points among 600 men in the Normative Aging Study who were free of electrocardiographic abnormalities at the time of the baseline ECG. Of these men, we had follow-up data from a second electrocardiogram for 496 men 8.1 (SD = 3.1) years later, on average. We used repeated measures linear regression to analyze change in electrocardiographic conduction timing and logistic regression to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for developing specific conduction disturbances and adjusted for potential confounders.


Mean (± SD) blood (5.8 ± 3.6), patella bone (30.3 ± 17.7), and tibia bone (21.6 ± 12.0) lead concentrations were similar to those found in samples from the general U.S. population and much lower than those reported in occupationally exposed groups. Compared with those in the lowest tertile of tibia lead, those in the highest had a 7.94-ms (95% CI, 1.42-14.45) increase in heart rate-corrected QT (QTc) interval and a 5.94-ms increase in heart rate-corrected QRS (95% CI, 1.66-10.22) duration > 8 years. Those in the highest tertile of tibia lead also had increased odds of QT prolongation (QTc ≥ 440 msec; OR = 2.53; 95% CI, 1.22-5.25) and JT prolongation (heart rate-corrected JT > 360 msec; OR = 2.53; 95% CI, 0.93-6.91). Results were weaker for patella lead. No associations were identified with blood lead.


This study suggests that low-level cumulative exposure to lead is associated with worse future cardiac conductivity in the ventricular myocardium, as reflected in QT interval characteristics.

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