Lead concentrations in human plasma, urine and whole blood

Scand J Work Environ Health. 1997 Oct;23(5):359-63. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.232.


Objectives: Blood-lead levels (B-Pb), and to some extent urinary lead (U-Pb), are the most employed measures of lead exposure and risk. However, the small fraction of lead present in plasma (usually below 1% of that in blood) is probably more relevant to lead exposure and toxicity. Nevertheless, the lead content of plasma lead (P-Pb) has only seldom been used, mainly due to analytical limitations, which have now been overcome. We examined P-Pb in occupationally exposed subjects, as well as its relationship with B-Pb and U-Pb.

Methods: Blood samples were obtained from 145 male workers, 110 of whom were employed in lead work. After a simple dilution of plasma, P-Pb was determined by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The detection limit was 0.04 microg/l, and the imprecision was 5%.

Results: The lead concentration ranges were 0.20-37 microg/l for P-Pb, 0.9-176 microg/l (density adjusted) for U-Pb, and 9-930 microg/l for B-Pb. A close exponential relation was obtained between B-Pb and P-Pb. When B-Pb was plotted versus log P-Pb, a straight line (log P-Pb = 0.00225 x B-Pb - 0.58; r = 0.97) was obtained. Both the relation between U-Pb and P-Pb and that between U-Pb and B-Pb showed a large scattering (r = 0.78 in both cases). The relation to B-Pb appeared to be exponential, while that to P-Pb appeared to be linear.

Conclusions: The low detection limit and good precision of P-Pb determinations make it possible to use P-Pb in assessments of lead exposure and risk. Furthermore, in relative terms, P-Pb is a more sensitive measure than B-Pb, especially at high lead levels. This development is of importance for studies of exposure, possibly also for studies of risks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Lead / pharmacokinetics*
  • Lead Poisoning / blood
  • Lead Poisoning / diagnosis*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / blood
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Lead