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A comparison of concentrations of lead in human tissues.
  1. P S Barry


    This postmortem study of lead concentrations in the tissues of 129 subjects is an extension to a report by Barry and Mossman (1970). Lead concentrations in bone greatly exceeded the concentrations in soft tissues and were highest in the dense bones. Bone lead concentrations increased with age in both sexes, more especially in male subjects and in dense bone, varying between mean values of 2-16 ppm in the ribs of children to over 50 ppm in the dense petrous temporal bones of elderly male adults. Male adults contained over 30% more lead in their bones than females. Mean concentrations of lead in the soft tissues varied from less than 0-1 ppm in organs such as muscle and heart to over 2 ppm in the aorta. In most tissues with lead values in excess of 0-2 ppm the male concentrations exceeded female values by about 30%. With the exception of the aorta, spleen, lung, and prostate, lead concentrations did not increase with age in the soft tissues of either sex after about the second decade of life. Children showed concentrations of lead in their soft tissues comparable to female adults, but the concentrations in bone were much lower. It is suggested that children do not possess the same capacity as adults to retain lead in bone. In male adults occupationally exposed to lead the concentrations of lead in bone exceeded the concentrations in unexposed male adults within the same age group by two-to three-fold. Soft tissue lead concentrations between the two groups were less divergent. An assessment of the total body burden of lead revealed higher levels in adult male subjects than in females at mean values of 164-8 mg compared to 103-6 mg, respectively. Over 90% of the total body burden of lead in adults was in bone, of which over 70% was in dense bone. Male adults occupationally exposed to lead had mean total body burdens of 566-4 mg Pb, of which 97% was in bone. The release of lead from bone in conjunction with calcium was not considered to be of physiological significance. Lead concentrations of hair and nails were higher than soft tissue lead concentrations and varied widely. Hair lead measurements were not considered to provide a reliable assessment of lead absorption. The concentrations of lead in tissues of a mixed group of subjects with no known occupational exposure to lead have been shown to be comparable to the findings in earlier studies. Present levels of lead in the environment are not considered to be a hazard to the health of the population in general.

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