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Project Status: complete

Report Published September 1974:

Title: Food chain and health implications of airborne lead

Contractor: Epidemiological Studies Laboratory, State Department of Health

Contract Number: ARB-012 & 7-083-1

Research Program Area: Health & Exposure

Topic Areas: Health Effects of Air Pollution, Toxic Air Contaminants


In January 1970, lead poisoning among horses in the Carquinez Strait Area led to questions as to whether lead in air might be affecting human food supplies in that area or elsewhere in California. This added further urgency to the Department's interest in seeing whether sensitive methods could be applied to distinguishing blood lead levels in population samples of California adults and children. Air samples and food samples reflecting usual local purchase and consumption habits were obtained in five areas; one an isolated mountain community and two paired communities each in the San Francisco Bay Area (Martinez and Crockett) and in Los Angeles (Manhattan Beach and Burbank). In addition, blood and urine samples from adults and children were obtained and analyzed for lead or for metabolic evidence of lead exposure. The first hypothesis tested was that there was a relationship between ingestion of lead by humans through food chain mechanisms and blood lead levels. The second hypothesis tested was that there was an important association between airborne lead levels, and lead levels in blood or evidence of impairment of biochemical processes through the effect on delta-amino-levilinic acid dehydratase. Supplemental support permitted further studies of the factors influencing lead levels in the blood of children in Los Angeles and in San Diego. We found no appreciable contribution of food lead levels to lead body burden as reflected by blood lead or other biological indices. We found blood lead among school children in Burbank to be significantly higher than in Manhattan Beach and blood lead among adults to be higher in Crockett than in Benicia. Air samples from Burbank also showed higher concentrations of lead than did those from Manhattan Beach. We did not find any evidence of high blood lead levels among children in San Diego who lived in older housing. We recommend further monitoring of lead in children in relation to atmospheric exposure and to other sources. We recommend further application of vegetation sampling (Avena) as an indicator of particulate metalic pollutant.


For questions regarding this research project, including available data and progress status, contact: Heather Choi at (916) 322-3893

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