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Keywords:

  • lead exposure;
  • preterm delivery;
  • birth weight;
  • premature rupture of the membranes;
  • pregnancy outcome;
  • epidemiology;
  • smelters

Abstract

Although the adverse effect on pregnancy outcomes at high levels of lead exposure in the workplace has been recognized for years, there is uncertainty regarding the impact of exposure at the lower community exposure levels commonly encountered today. This review summarizes the epidemiologic literature and discusses pertinent methodologic issues and possible sources of interstudy variation. The authors conclude that prenatal lead exposure is unlikely to increase the risk of premature membrane rupture but does appear to increase the risk of preterm delivery. Whether prenatal lead exposure decreases gestational age in terms of infants is unclear. Prenatal lead exposure also appears to be associated with reduced birth weight, but results vary in relation to study design and degree of control for confounding. Adjustment for gestational age, a possible confounder of the birth weight-lead exposure association, did not yield clearer results.