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A noninvasive isotopic approach to estimate the bone lead contribution to blood in children: Implications for assessing the efficacy of lead abatement


Lead hazard control measures to reduce children's exposure to household lead sources often result in only limited reductions in blood lead levels. This may be due to incomplete remediation of lead sources and/or to the remobilization of lead stores from bone, which may act as an endogenous lead source that buffers reductions in blood lead levels. Here we present a noninvasive isotopic approach to estimate the magnitude of the bone lead contribution to blood in children following household lead remediation. In this approach, lead isotopic ratios of a child's blood and 5-day fecal samples are determined before and after a household intervention aimed at reducing the child's lead intake. The bone lead contribution to blood is estimated from a system of mass balance equations of lead concentrations and isotopic compositions in blood at the different times of sample collection. The utility of this method is illustrated with three cases of children with blood lead levels in the range of 18-29 mug/dL. In all three cases, the release of lead from bone supported a substantial fraction of the measured blood lead level postintervention, up to 96% in one case. In general, the lead isotopic compositions of feces matched or were within the range of the lead isotopic compositions of the household dusts with lead loadings exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action levels. This isotopic agreement underscores the utility of lead isotopic measurements of feces to identify household sources of lead exposure. Results from this limited number of cases support the hypothesis that the release of bone lead into blood may substantially buffer the decrease in blood lead levels expected from the reduction in lead intake.

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