2022 Annual Meeting Report: Improved Approaches to Address Lead Exposure

By Luke Liu posted 04-01-2022 14:56


Lead (Pb) is one of the most notorious but also one of the most well-characterized toxic metals. It impairs neurodevelopment in children, it causes memory dysfunction in occupational workers, and it even deposits in the bone as a toxic reservoir for decades. Having recognized these adverse health outcomes induced by Pb, extensive efforts have been made to reduce the harm by this ubiquitous toxicant to society. For example, efforts in the past decades have shown, in US children, a substantial decrease in blood Pb levels, by over 90% (PMC7969125). The 2022 SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo Workshop Session “Translating Lead Toxicology: Engaging Stakeholders and Communities” during the SOT 61st Annual Meeting and ToxExpo addressed this topic of lead toxicology.

As as the first speaker Max Costa accurately stated, “Pb poisoning is not a thing of the past,” and it remains a threat to public health. The second speaker, Melissa Mays—along with many other residents in Flint, Michigan—still suffers from Pb overexposure–induced health issues. The past two years, when the pandemic hit this country so hard, were even tougher, as during this time Pb toxicity was magnified. We used to learn about Pb-related symptoms through textbooks, but these symptoms were evidenced in the victims of Flint water crisis and included “skin rashes, hair loss, and itchy skin” and “elevated blood Pb levels in children,” according to Mays. I only wish that the science I learned could act as magic to treat these symptoms, but fully resolving the existing issues among Flint residents and preventing such tragic events in the future requires further efforts.

Can community-based biokinetic modeling help? The third speaker, Marc Stifelman, used soil/dust ingestion and Pb blood monitoring in the Bunker Hill Superfund Site to aid risk management decisions. This model has been increasingly updated and improved and can perform excellent predictions of blood Pb levels. Specifically, individuals with highest blood Pb levels detected through the systemic monitoring system were matched with highest Pb estimations by the model (i.e., samplings from their homes and yards and community-level data for soil and dust ingestion).

The last speaker, Andrew Geller, introduced the Federal Lead Action Plan, which is designed to “generate data, maps, and mapping tools to identify high-exposure communities or locations and disparities for prioritization efforts to reduce children’s blood lead levels.” This plan focuses on resolving the environmental justice issues by identifying the disproportionately impacted locations. Using the “mapper,” one can clearly see the “Pb hotspots” at national or ZIP code resolution.

Pb is a challenge, but we now have improved our approaches to pinpoint this challenge. Issues from Pb exposure are now present in Flint, Michigan; in Newark, New Jersey; and in many other places in this country. Let’s find it, remove it, and give the health back to the public.

This blog was prepared by an SOT Reporter and represents the views of the author. SOT Reporters are SOT members who volunteer to write about sessions and events in which they participate during the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. SOT does not propose or endorse any position by posting this article. If you are interested in participating in the SOT Reporter program in the future, please email Giuliana Macaluso.

On-demand recordings of all Featured and Scientific Sessions delivered during the 2022 SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo will be available to meeting registrants in the SOT Event App and Online Planner after their conclusion, through July 31, 2022.