Maternal Blood Lead Level During Pregnancy in South Central Los Angeles

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Twenty-five years of public health efforts produced a striking reduction in lead exposure; the blood lead average in the United States has decreased to less than 20% of levels measured in the 1970s. However, poor minority groups that live in large urban centers are still at high risk for elevated lead levels. In this study, our data showed that pregnant immigrants (n = 1 428) who live in South Central Los Angeles-one of the most economically depressed regions of California-have significantly higher (p < .0001) blood lead levels (geometric mean = 2.3 µg/dl [0.11 µmol/l]) than 504 pregnant nonimmigrants (geometric mean = 1.9 µg/dl [0.09 µmol/l]). The most important factors associated with lower blood lead levels in both groups were younger age; more-recent date of blood sampling (i.e., decreasing secular trend); and blood sampling in mid-autumn, instead of mid-spring (i.e., seasonal trend). Blood lead levels of immigrants were strongly dependent on time elapsed since immigration to the United States; each natural log increase in years of residence was associated with an approximately 19% decrease in blood lead levels. Although blood lead means for both groups were almost the same as the estimated national average, 25 of the 30 cases of elevated blood lead (i.e., ≥ 10 µg/dl [0.48 µmol/l]) occurred in the immigrant group. The odds ratio (95% confidence intervals within parentheses) for having elevated blood lead levels (a) was 9.3 (1.9, 45.8) if the immigrant engaged in pica; (b) was 3.8 (1.4, 10.5) if the immigrant had low dietary calcium intake during pregnancy; and (c) was .65 (.43, .98) for every natural log unit increase of years of residence in the United States. The control of pica and dietary calcium intake may offer a means of reducing lead exposure in immigrants.

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