International study provides important benchmark for countries still using leaded gasoline

Switching to Unleaded Reduces Lead in People's Blood

A new study by Princeton University researchers demonstrates, for the first time, that it is possible to predict the extent to which switching from leaded to unleaded gasoline reduces the level of lead in people's blood. Lead levels where unleaded gasoline is used averaged about three micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), well below the 10 ug/dL that is generally considered cause for concern in the United States.

The study will appear in the Nov. 15 print issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. It was published on the journal's web site on Oct. 1.

"Most countries still use leaded gasoline," according to the study's lead author Valerie Thomas, Ph.D., research scientist at Princeton's Center for Energy and Environmental Studies. Countries using the largest amounts of lead in gasoline include Nigeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and South Africa, according to Thomas. "Some of the highest concentrations of lead in gasoline are found in Africa, where there has been almost no progress in phasing lead out of gasoline," she adds.

Before this study, the research article claims, "there has been little ability to predict how blood lead levels will change, for a given population, as leaded gasoline is phased out."

In areas where lead has been removed from gasoline, blood lead levels typically fall to about three micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), says Thomas. "In many of the locations studied, average population blood lead levels were above ten micrograms per deciliter before the reductions of lead in gasoline," she noted.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 10 ug/dL as the threshold for taking action to reduce children's exposure to lead. U.S. blood lead levels in both adults and children have dropped more than 80 percent

Contact: Charmayne Marsh
American Chemical Society

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