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Environ Health Perspect. 2014 Jul;122(7):754-60. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307072. Epub 2014 Mar 25.

The influence of declining air lead levels on blood lead-air lead slope factors in children.

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National Center for Environmental Assessment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.



It is difficult to discern the proportion of blood lead (PbB) attributable to ambient air lead (PbA), given the multitude of lead (Pb) sources and pathways of exposure. The PbB-PbA relationship has previously been evaluated across populations. This relationship was a central consideration in the 2008 review of the Pb national ambient air quality standards.


The objectives of this study were to evaluate the relationship between PbB and PbA concentrations among children nationwide for recent years and to compare the relationship with those obtained from other studies in the literature.


We merged participant-level data for PbB from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III (1988-1994) and NHANES 9908 (1999-2008) with PbA data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We applied mixed-effects models, and we computed slope factor, d[PbB]/d[PbA] or the change in PbB per unit change in PbA, from the model results to assess the relationship between PbB and PbA.


Comparing the NHANES regression results with those from the literature shows that slope factor increased with decreasing PbA among children 0-11 years of age.


These findings suggest that a larger relative public health benefit may be derived among children from decreases in PbA at low PbA exposures. Simultaneous declines in Pb from other sources, changes in PbA sampling uncertainties over time largely related to changes in the size distribution of Pb-bearing particulate matter, and limitations regarding sampling size and exposure error may contribute to the variability in slope factor observed across peer-reviewed studies.

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