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Effects of low level exposure to lead on neurophysiological functions among lead battery workers.
  1. T Kovala,
  2. E Matikainen,
  3. T Mannelin,
  4. J Erkkilä,
  5. V Riihimäki,
  6. H Hänninen,
  7. A Aitio
  1. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland.


    OBJECTIVES: Assessment of neurophysiological functions in workers with low level exposure to lead and evaluation of the efficacy of bone lead measurements in the prediction of effects of lead. METHODS: Exposure to lead of 60 workers from a lead battery battery factory was estimated from historical blood lead measurements and analysis of lead in the tibial and calcaneal bones with x ray fluorescence. Peripheral and central nervous system functions were assessed by measuring conduction velocities, sensory distal latencies, sensory amplitudes, and vibration thresholds as well as by quantitative measurement of the absolute and relative powers and mean frequencies of different electroencephalograph (EEG) channels. RESULTS: Sensory amplitudes, and to a smaller degree sensory or motor conduction velocities, showed a negative correlation with long term exposure to lead, most clearly with integrated blood lead concentration and exposure time. Vibration thresholds measured in the arm were related to recent exposure to lead, those measured in the leg to long term exposure. The alpha and beta activities of the EEG were more abundant in subjects with higher long term exposure to lead. Calcaneal lead content reflected short term exposure, tibial lead content reflected long term exposure. Blood lead history showed a closer relation with effects of lead than the tibial or calcaneal lead concentrations. CONCLUSIONS: Vibratory thresholds, quantitative EEG, and to a smaller extent the sensory amplitude, provide sensitive measures of effects of lead in occupationally exposed adults. Most accurate estimates of health risks induced by lead can be obtained from a good history of blood lead measurements. If such a history of blood lead concentrations is not available, analysis of bone lead may be used for the assessment of health risks.

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