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Environ Sci Technol. 2014;48(1):739-46. doi: 10.1021/es4034952. Epub 2013 Dec 19.

Fetal death and reduced birth rates associated with exposure to lead-contaminated drinking water.

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Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University , 418 Durham Hall, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, United States.


This ecologic study notes that fetal death rates (FDR) during the Washington DC drinking water "lead crisis" (2000-2004) peaked in 2001 when water lead levels (WLLs) were highest, and were minimized in 2004 after public health interventions were implemented to protect pregnant women. Changes in the DC FDR vs neighboring Baltimore City were correlated to DC WLL (R(2) = 0.72). Birth rates in DC also increased versus Baltimore City and versus the United States in 2004-2006, when consumers were protected from high WLLs. The increased births in DC neighborhoods comparing 2004 versus 2001 was correlated to the incidence of lead pipes (R(2) = 0.60). DC birth rates from 1999 to 2007 correlated with proxies for maternal blood lead including the geometric mean blood lead in DC children (R(2) = 0.68) and the incidence of lead poisoning in children under age 1.3 years (R(2) = 0.64). After public health protections were removed in 2006, DC FDR spiked in 2007-2009 versus 2004-2006 (p < 0.05), in a manner consistent with high WLL health risks to consumers arising from partial lead service line replacements, and DC FDR dropped to historically low levels in 2010-2011 after consumers were protected and the PSLR program was terminated. Re-evaluation of a historic construction-related miscarriage cluster in the USA Today Building (1987-1988), demonstrates that high WLLs from disturbed plumbing were a possible cause. Overall results are consistent with prior research linking increased lead exposure to higher incidence of miscarriages and fetal death, even at blood lead elevations (≈5 μg/dL) once considered relatively low.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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