Decrements in neurobehavioral performance associated with mixed exposure to organic and inorganic lead

Brian S. Schwartz, Karen I. Bolla, Walter Stewart, D. Patrick Ford, Jacqueline Agnew, Howard Frumkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1990, 222 current employees of a chemical facility in the eastern United States that manufactured tetraethyl lead were administered a neurobehavioral test battery, tests of olfactory function and peripheral vibration threshold, and questionnaires that assessed neuropsychiatric symptoms. A cumulative variable of exposure to inorganic and organic lead was derived from 12 years of personal industrial hygiene sampling data and an occupational history interview that assessed work in each of 29 exposure zones in the lead area. The range of assigned exposure intensities in these 29 zones was 4-119 μg/m3 for organic lead and 1-56 μg/m3 for inorganic lead. Cumulative lead exposure and exposure duration were defined as categorical variables (four groups) in multiple linear regression models. The adjusted mean differences in neurobehavioral test scores were estimated by comparing the average scores of the moderate, high, and highest exposure groups with the low exposure (reference) group. After adjustment for premorbid intellectual ability, age, race, and alcohol consumption, neurobehavioral test scores were poorer as measures of both cumulative lead exposure and exposure duration increased; many of the associations evidenced dose-response relations. Associations were observed in most cognitive and functional domains tested, but were most common in two domains: manual dexterity and verbal memory/learning. On the affected neuropsychologic measures, the groups with the highest exposure averaged scores 5-22% lower than those of the reference groups. Overall, the data revealed generally consistent and coherent associations between two measures of lead exposure and poorer neurobehavioral test performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1006-1021
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 1993


  • Central nervous system diseases
  • Cross-sectional studies
  • Lead
  • Nervous system
  • Neuropsychological tests
  • Neurotoxins
  • Peripheral nerve diseases
  • Tetraethyl lead

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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