A neurobehavioural study of long-term occupational inorganic lead exposure

Kai Österberg, Jimmy Börjesson, Lars Gerhardsson, Andrejs Schütz, Staffan Skerfving

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A group of 38 male workers at a secondary smelter (period of employment 2-35 years; median 10 years) was divided into two subgroups depending on bone-lead concentration, arranged as 19 matched pairs according to age, education and job level. The median concentrations for finger-bone lead (Bone-Pb) were 16 vs. 32 μg/g; for current blood-lead (B-Pb), 1.6 vs. 1.8 μmol/l; for retrospective peak blood-lead (Peak-Pb), 2.7 vs. 3.0 μmol/l; and for a retrospective cumulative blood lead index (CBLI), 143 vs. 233 μmol/l x months. Nineteen unexposed male workers from a nearby mechanical plant served as controls, using the same matching algorithm. The triplets were examined with a standardised neuropsychological test battery, and four questionnaires for self-rating of symptoms and activity/stress level related to work environment. No sign of behavioural deterioration was observed in the exposed groups, either in objective cognitive tests or in subjective symptom/mood self-rating scales. Despite the limited sample size, the statistical power was sufficient to conclude that a concealed lead-associated effect was unlikely. Covariations between behavioural measures and lead exposure indices were generally low and non-significant, as a whole not exceeding a random level. No confounding or effect-modifying factor was detected that could explain the results as a type II error. To conclude, a current B-Pb of 1.8 μmol/l was not associated with adverse behavioural effects, and a long-term lead exposure around 2.0 μmol/l for 13 years (mean values) was not associated with permanent brain dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1997 Aug 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Environmental Health and Occupational Health

Free keywords

  • Lead
  • Neuropsychological tests
  • Neurotoxins


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