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  QUESTION: Is there any information about the long-term effect of swallowing a mouthful of leaded gasoline, 23 Jan 2003, Texas, United States of America

When I was about 12 years old (I'm now 43) I was siphoning gasoline out of a car and accidentally swallowed a mouthful. I immediately went home and drank large amounts of milk to slow the rate of absorption - at least this is what I was told to do.
I didn't have any noticeable effects at the time.

Is there any information about the long-term effect of this type of one-time exposure?

Thank you,

ANSWER: 23 May 2003

Dear Robert,

unfortunately there is very little information on the long-term effect of one-time ingestion of leaded gasoline but a recent study written up in the Chicago Tribune found an increased risk of early death if the blood lead level was between 20 and 29 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL) at the time of the blood test 12 to 16 years earlier. That is, there was only one measure of the blood lead level between 1976 and 1980 and the researchers determined whether each person was alive or dead as of the end of 1992. The story is available free on Indianapolis Star site until 28 Jan 2003: www.indystar.coml; and users need to register first but it is also free from: The big question for you then is "Did my blood lead level exceed 20 g/dL?" The answer is probably not from this one ingestion of a mouthful of leaded gasoline, unless you were already exposed to other sources of lead and the accident pushed your blood lead level up. Even then, the research relates to the whole population, not an individual.

One guide to how much lead you've been exposed to over your lifetime is a graph of your blood lead level over time. As you age, it usually gets higher, not because you're being exposed to more lead currently but because the lead stored in your bones comes back into the blood stream. Therefore if your blood lead level exceeds the CDC guideline of 10 g/dL now, it is indicative of either current exposure to lead, OR excess lead exposure earlier in life.

Yours sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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