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Lead dietary exposure in the European population

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Lead is a natural environmental contaminant, but its use in the past in water pipes, paint and petrol increased its general presence. Food is the major source of human exposure to lead. Lead accumulates in the body and most seriously affects the developing central nervous system in young children. There is no recommended tolerable intake level as there is no evidence of thresholds for a number of critical health effects. Legislative measures have been gradually introduced to reduce exposure by removing lead from paint, food cans, water pipes and petrol. The current study examined 144,206 analytical results for lead in food collected during a nine-year period. More than half of the foods tested had levels of lead at less than detection or quantification limits. The mean lead levels varied between 0.3 µg/kg for infant follow-on formulae to 4,300 µg/kg for dietetic products with an overall median across all categories of 21.4 µg/kg. Food lead levels decreased by about 23 % between 2003 and 2010, although this should be interpreted cautiously. Mean lifetime dietary exposure was estimated at 0.68 µg/kg b.w. per day in the European population based on middle bound mean lead occurrence. Exposure was highest for toddlers and other children with 1.32 and 1.03 µg/kg b.w. per day, respectively, while the two infant surveys ranged between 0.83 and 0.91 µg/kg b.w. per day. Adult exposure was estimated at 0.50 µg/kg b.w. per day. The elderly and very elderly population groups had similar profiles to the adult age group, while adolescents had slightly higher estimated dietary exposure. Important food category contributors include bread and rolls (8.5 %), tea (6.2 %), tap water (6.1 %), potatoes and potato products (4.9 %), fermented milk products (4.2%) and beer and beer-like beverages (4.1 %), although this will vary between age groups and surveys.

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