The association between low levels of lead in blood and occupational noise-induced hearing loss in steel workers

Yaw Huei Hwang, Han Yueh Chiang, Mei Chu Yen-Jean, Jung-Der Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


As the use of leaded gasoline has ceased in the last decade, background lead exposure has generally been reduced. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of low-level lead exposure on human hearing loss. This study was conducted in a steel plant and 412 workers were recruited from all over the plant. Personal information such as demographics and work history was obtained through a questionnaire. All subjects took part in an audiometric examination of hearing thresholds, for both ears, with air-conducted pure tones at frequencies of 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 6000 and 8000 Hz. Subjects' blood samples were collected and analyzed for levels of manganese, copper, zinc, arsenic, cadmium and lead with inductive couple plasma-mass spectrometry. Meanwhile, noise levels in different working zones were determined using a sound level meter with A-weighting network. Only subjects with hearing loss difference of no more than 15 dB between both ears and had no congenital abnormalities were included in further data analysis. Lead was the only metal in blood found significantly correlated with hearing loss for most tested sound frequencies (p < 0.05 to p < 0.0001). After adjustment for age and noise level, the logistic regression model analysis indicated that elevated blood lead over 7 μg/dL was significantly associated with hearing loss at the sound frequencies of 3000 through 8000 Hz with odds ratios raging from 3.06 to 6.26 (p < 0.05 ~ p < 0.005). We concluded that elevated blood lead at level below 10 μg/dL might enhance the noise-induced hearing loss. Future research needs to further explore the detailed mechanism. Crown

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-49
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Dec 15

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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