Predictive value of determinations of zinc protoporphyrin for increased blood lead concentrations

Paul Froom, Estella Kristal-Boneh, Jochanan Benbassat, Ruth Ashkanazi, Joseph Ribak

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Blood lead (PbB) and red cell zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP) concentrations are widely used biomarkers for lead toxicity. It is uncertain, however, whether either or both are needed for monitoring lead exposure and how discordant PbB and ZPP values should be interpreted. We reviewed the results of PbB and ZPP determinations in 94 workers in a lead-battery plant over a 13-year period and retrieved all 807 sets of tests in which both PbB and ZPP were available, with a follow-up PbB value 6 months later. PbB exceeded 1.93 μmol/L (40 μg/dL) in 414 (51%), and 2.90 μmol/L (60 μg/dL) in 105 (14%) of the blood samples. We derived the test properties of various ZPP concentrations for concurrent 'toxic' PbB concentrations, defined as ≤1.93 and 2.90 μmol/L (40 and 60 μg/dL). The results indicated that, given a population of lead-exposed workers with a 10% prevalence of PbB of ≤2.90 μmol/L (60 μg/dL), a policy of testing PbB only in those with ZPP >0.71 μmol/L (40 μg/dL) would obviate 42% of the PbB tests, but would miss about three cases with toxic PbB concentrations in every 200 workers at risk. A finding of increased ZPP concentrations with a concurrent 'nontoxic' PbB was associated with an increased risk of a toxic PbB concentration 6 months later. We conclude that (a) screening by testing only ZPP does not safeguard exposed persons against lead toxicity, and (b) the frequency of PbB monitoring should be guided by estimates of the risk of future lead toxicity in individual workers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1283-1288
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Chemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1998


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