Long-term time trend of lead exposure in young German adults – Evaluation of more than 35 Years of data of the German Environmental Specimen Bank

2021, Fachzeitschriften

Lermen, Dominik; Weber, Till; Göen, Thomas; Bartel-Steinbach, Martina; Gwinner, Frederik; Mueller, Sabine C.; Conrad, André; Rüther, Maria; von Briesen, Hagen; Kolossa-Gehring, Marike
International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 231 (2021), 113665; online 19 November 2020


Lead is a ubiquitous pollutant with well-known effects on human health. As there is no lower toxicological threshold for lead in blood and since data gaps on lead exposure still exist in many European countries, HBM data on lead is of high importance. To address this, the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative HBM4EU classified lead as a priority substance. The German Environmental Specimen Bank (German ESB) has monitored lead exposure since more than 35 years. Using data from the early 1980s to 2019 we reveal and discuss long-term trends in blood lead levels (BLLs) and current internal exposure of young adults in Germany. BLLs in young adults decreased substantially in the investigated period. As results from the ESB sampling site Muenster demonstrate, the geometric mean of BLLs of young adults decreased from 1981 (78,7 μg/L) to 2019 (10.4 μg/L) by about 87%. Trends in human exposure closely correlate with air lead levels (ALLs) provided by the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP). Hence, the decrease of BLLs largely reflects the drop in air lead pollution. Known associations of sex, smoking, alcohol consumption, and housing situation with BLLs are confirmed with data of the German ESB. Although internal lead exposure in Germany decreased substantially, the situation might be different in other European countries. Since 2010, BLLs of young adults in Germany levelled out at approximately 10 μg/L. The toxicity of lead even at low levels is known to cause adverse health effects especially in children following exposure of the child or the mother during pregnancy. To identify current exposure sources and to minimize future lead exposure, continuous monitoring of lead intake and exposure levels is needed.

doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2020.113665