After having been emitted at maximum rates in the 1960s and 1970s, lead has become less ubiquitous in industrialized countries as a result of increasingly stringent policies to limit the use of this heavy metal as an anti-knock additive in gasoline. Using a detailed reconstruction of lead emissions in Europe (PbE), of the air concentration of lead in Europe (PbC) and repeated measurements of lead concentrations in human blood (PbB) in Germany since about 1980, we have constructed an empirical model that estimates PbB given PbE. This model is used for 2 purposes: i) To estimate PbB levels for the 1960s and 1970s in Germany, when emissions were maximum and monitoring blood levels had not yet begun. It turns out that PbB peak emissions were reaching a mean level, which health officials considered potentially harmful for fetuses and small children. ii) To estimate how PbB levels may have developed if regulations of the use of lead in gasoline had been implemented differently. In case of no or delayed regulations, the model estimates that PbB levels well beyond the critical level would have emerged. Thus, the regulation instituted in Germany since the 1970s has reduced significant health hazards.
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