Investigations on neurotoxicity of chemical substances at the workplace. V. Determination of the motor and sensory nerve conduction velocity in persons occupationally exposed to lead

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 1984;53(3):189-203. doi: 10.1007/BF00398813.


A cross-sectional study was performed in order to investigate the influence of chronic lead-exposure on the peripheral nervous system. We examined 148 male workers of a storage battery manufacturing plant, who had been exposed to lead metal and inorganic lead compounds for 1 to 28 years (mean 11 years). Fifteen workers with non-occupational risks of peripheral neuropathy (former diseases, alcohol abuse, medication) were excluded from the study. The investigation program comprised: case history, physical examination, analyses of blood- and urine-samples and determination of maximal motor, mixed and sensory conduction velocity (NCV) of the ulnar and median nerve of the right forearm. Objectively no worker showed any signs of health effects related to lead exposure. The "Biological Monitoring" included the determination of (1) Blood-lead level (Pb-B), (2) Free erythrocyte porphyrins (FEP), (3) delta-Aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALA-D) and (4) delta-Aminolevulinic acid in urine (ALA-U). Further "time-weighted-average (TWA)"-values of Pb-B were calculated on the basis of several determinations over the period 1975-1981. The following "actual" ("TWA") median values resulted: Pb-B 53 micrograms/dl (54 micrograms/dl), ALA-U 5.6 mg/l (8.4 mg/l), FEP 2.0 mg/l (2.0 mg/l). The "Biologischer Arbeitsstoff Toleranz Wert (BAT)" of 70 micrograms/dl for Pb-B was exceeded in 15 workers (11%), and of 15 mg/l for ALA-U in 30 cases (23%). In comparison with age-matched controls, the lead workers showed a mild slowing of NCV with mean values between 0.8 and 2.0 m/s. Multiple stepwise regression analyses revealed statistically significant correlations between the four NCV and age as well as Pb-B. There were better correlations by using "TWA" than "actual" data of Pb-B. Consideration of the results of the regression analyses, together with an evaluation of the individual neurophysiological status as a function of internal lead exposure, a "dose-effect-relationship" was found only in the case of Pb-B exceeding 70 micrograms/dl. From our study it is concluded that chronic lead exposure resulting in blood-lead levels of below 70 micrograms/dl is no occupational risk causing a functionally significant slowing of nerve conduction velocities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Germany, West
  • Humans
  • Lead / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons / drug effects
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neural Conduction / drug effects*
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Ulnar Nerve / physiopathology


  • Lead