OBJECTIVE: To study the association in a group of battery manufacturing workers between computerised postural sway parameters and present concentrations of blood lead (PPb), index of cumulative blood lead years (CBI), and cumulative blood lead at different years of exposure (CPbYs). METHODS: Postural stability was investigated with a computerised postural sway measurement system in 60 workers exposed to lead with exposure duration of 84 (range 3-366) months and in 60 control subjects. An index of CBIs in 55 workers (previous blood lead results of five workers were not available) and CPbYs were computed for each worker by calculating the area under the curve of concentrations of blood lead against time. RESULTS: The mean (SD) PPb was 36.0 (11.7) (range 6.4 to 64.5) micrograms/dl for the exposed workers and 6.3 (2.4) (range 3.1-10.9) micrograms/dl for the 14 randomly selected control subjects. Significant differences between groups for the postural sway parameters obtained when the eyes were closed were found for length of sway path (L); mean velocity of the centre of pressure along its path (Vel); area included within the path of the centre of pressure (Ao); 95% confidence elliptical area (Ae). The Romberg ratio (the relation between eyes closed and open) for the Vel, L, Ao, and Ae of the exposed group were also significantly different from those of the controls. The postural sway parameters (eyes closed) were not significantly correlated with PPb or CBI. However, the cumulative blood lead for the past two years before the postural sway assessment, CPbY2, was significantly correlated with all the postural sway parameters. CONCLUSION: The study showed that workers exposed to lead had significantly poorer postural stability than a control group. Lead may affect certain parts of the somatosensory system resulting in postural instability when the visual input is cut off. The CPbY2 was significantly positively correlated with most of the postural sway parameters. Effects of lead on postural stability may be related to recent increases in blood lead concentration among the exposed workers rather than to cumulative body burden.
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