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Sci Total Environ. 1988 Oct 15;76(2-3):267-78.

The use of sweat to monitor lead absorption through the skin.

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CSIRO Division of Fuel Technology, NSW, Australia.


It is usually assumed that lead can be absorbed through the skin only if it is present as an organolead compound such as tetraethyllead or lead naphthanate. It has been found, however, that finely-powdered lead metal or lead nitrate solution placed on the skin results in rapid absorption of lead, and transport of the metal around the body. The absorbed lead appears in sweat and saliva, but not in blood or urine. The application of 6 mg of lead as 0.5 M lead nitrate to the left arm resulted in an increase in lead concentration in pilocarpine-induced iontophoresis sweat samples taken from the right arm, from an initial value of 15-25 micrograms Pbl-1 to greater than 300 micrograms Pbl-1 after 2 days. Saliva lead increased from 2.5 to 15 micrograms Pbl-1 in the same period. The rate of lead absorption through the skin increases with increased sweating of the skin. Since no measurable increase in blood lead has been found, the lead must be transported in the plasma and rapidly concentrated into the extracellular fluid pool (sweat and saliva), without significant uptake by the erythrocytes, and with a very low transient concentration in the plasma. Workers occupationally exposed to lead have extremely high levels of lead in sweat even though their lead in blood is only moderately elevated. Lead absorbed through the skin may be eliminated via sweat and other extracellular fluids, and hence not be as great a health hazard as ingested lead, but this will need to be proved by further studies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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