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June 28, 1993

Elevated Blood Lead Levels Associated With Illegally Distilled Alcohol

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Field Epidemiology, Epidemiology Program Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Service, US Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Ga (Dr Pegues); and the Division of Epidemiology, Alabama Department of Public Health, Montgomery, Ala (Drs Hughes and Woernle). Dr Pegues is now with the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Arch Intern Med. 1993;153(12):1501-1504. doi:10.1001/archinte.1993.00410120079011

Whiskey produced in illegal stills (ie, "moonshine") remains an important and underappreciated source of lead toxicity in some rural counties of the Southeast. From March 5 through October 26, 1991, eight adult patients with elevated blood lead levels were identified at a rural county hospital in Alabama and were reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health notifiable disease surveillance system. A case-patient was defined as any person 17 years of age or more who presented to the hospital from January 1, 1990, through December 31, 1991, and had a blood lead level of 0.72 μmol/L or more (15 μg/dL or more). To identify cases and potential sources of lead exposure, we reviewed medical and laboratory records from the hospital, interviewed patients with elevated blood lead levels, and determined the lead content of moonshine samples. Nine patients met the case definition, including one patient who was not reported to the state. Patients ranged in age from 28 to 62 years; blood lead values ranged from 0.77 to 12.50 μmol/L (16 to 259 μg/dL). The most frequent signs of possible lead toxicity included seizures (six), microcytic anemia (five), and encephalopathy (two); one patient died. The only identified source of lead exposure for the nine patients was moonshine ingestion. Moonshine samples available from local stills contained sufficient amounts of lead (340 to 4600 μmol/L to result in the observed blood lead levels. This investigation emphasizes the adverse health effects and ongoing public health impact of moonshine ingestion.

(Arch Intern Med. 1993;153:1501-1504)