Blood lead concentrations (B-Pb) were measured in 3 879 Swedish school children during the period 1978–2007. The objective was to study the effect of the proximity to lead sources based on the children's home and school location.
The children's home address and school location were geocoded and their proximity to a lead smelter and major roads was calculated using geographical information system (GIS) software. All the statistical analyses were carried out using means of generalized log-linear modelling, with natural-logarithm-transformed B-Pb, adjusted for sex, school year, lead-exposing hobby, country of birth and, in the periods 1988–1994 and 1995–2007, parents' smoking habits.
The GIS analysis revealed that although the emission from the smelter and children's B-Pb levels had decreased considerably since 1978, proximity to the lead smelter continued to affect levels of B-Pb, even in recent years (geometric mean: near smelter: 22.90 μg/l; far from smelter 19.75 μg/l; p = 0.001). The analysis also revealed that proximity to major roads noticeably affected the children's B-Pb levels during the period 1978–1987 (geometric mean near major roads: 44.26 μg/l; far from roads: 38.32 μg/l; p = 0.056), due to the considerable amount of lead in petrol. This effect was, however, not visible after 1987 due to prohibition of lead in petrol.
The results show that proximity to the lead smelter still has an impact on the children's B-Pb levels. This is alarming since it could imply that living or working in the vicinity of a former lead source could pose a threat years after reduction of the emission. The analysis also revealed that urban children exposed to lead from traffic were only affected during the early period, when there were considerable amounts of lead in petrol, and that the prohibition of lead in petrol in later years led to reduced levels of lead in the blood of urban children.