With lead exposure statistics on the rise, and scientists making recommendations to lower limits of lead exposure, the EPA and other organizations are looking for additional exposure sources. The connection between secondhand smoke and lead exposure are becoming an increasing concern.
In April 2012, the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) released the results of a long time study of the connection of lead exposure to secondhand smoke. "We assessed SHS exposure using self reported data from the home questionnaire (number of smokers at home) and serum cotinine levels. The National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measured serum cotinine. Cotinine is an alkaloid found in tobacco, and is also metabolite of nicotine. The results, "Median blood lead levels were 1.1 micrograms per deciliter. Lead levels decreased with increasing age, education, and PIR level and were higher in boys, in Black and Mexican American children, in children born outside of the United States, in children living in houses built before 1950 or with year unknown, and in homes with a higher number of smokers.
To the layperson, this means that in homes with a higher number of smokers, the long-term exposure to the lead produced by secondhand smoke is well above the exposure limits. Across all participant characteristics, lead levels increased with secondhand smoke. There were stronger associations with participants who had smokers living in the home. Among these 195 participants with higher blood levels, 37% lived with at least 1 smoker, and had levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter.
This study shows secondhand smoke as a modifiable source of lead exposure of children in the US and suggests that direct inhalation could be a major exposure pathway. It was recommended that Lead programs systematically evaluate smoking at home, and promotion of smoke free environments to reduce lead exposure. It has also been recommended that health care professionals evaluate potential secondhand smoke exposure and provide recommendations to minimize exposure as part of a child's health care.