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Environ Health Perspect. 1997 September; 105(9): 928–939.
PMCID: PMC1470371
Research Article

Renal effects of environmental and occupational lead exposure.


Environmental and industrial lead exposures continue to pose major public health problems in children and in adults. Acute exposure to high concentrations of lead can result in proximal tubular damage with characteristic histologic features and manifested by glycosuria and aminoaciduria. Chronic occupational exposure to lead, or consumption of illicit alcohol adulterated with lead, has also been linked to a high incidence of renal dysfunction, which is characterized by glomerular and tubulointerstitial changes resulting in chronic renal failure, hypertension, hyperuricemia, and gout. A high incidence of nephropathy was reported during the early part of this century from Queensland, Australia, in persons with a history of childhood lead poisoning. No such sequela has been found in studies of three cohorts of lead-poisoned children from the United States. Studies in individuals with low-level lead exposure have shown a correlation between blood lead levels and serum creatinine or creatinine clearance. Chronic low-level exposure to lead is also associated with increased urinary excretion of low molecular weight proteins and lysosomal enzymes. The relationship between renal dysfunction detected by these sensitive tests and the future development of chronic renal disease remains uncertain. Epidemiologic studies have shown an association between blood lead levels and blood pressure, and hypertension is a cardinal feature of lead nephropathy. Evidence for increased body lead burden is a prerequisite for the diagnosis of lead nephropathy. Blood lead levels are a poor indicator of body lead burden and reflect recent exposure. The EDTA lead mobilization test has been used extensively in the past to assess body lead burden. It is now replaced by the less invasive in vivo X-ray fluorescence for determination of bone lead content.

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