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Lead concentration in kids’ blood is associated with behavioral and emotional problems

Harold Mandel's picture
A Chinese kid

There has been a great deal of concern over the years about the potential for adverse effects of exposure to lead on the brains of kids. Lead poisoning is a very serious and preventable cause of behavioral and emotional problems in kids. Recent research shows there is an association between blood concentration of lead and these serious problems in children.

Association between lead exposure and children’s IQ has been established

The association between lead exposure and children’s IQ has been well established reported JAMA Pediatrics. However, few studies have investigated the effects of blood lead concentrations on the behavior of kids. Researchers decided to evaluate the association which exists between blood lead concentrations and behavioral problems in a community sample of Chinese preschool kids with a mean blood lead concentration of less than 10 µg/dL. Participants in the study included 1341 Chinese children between the ages of 3 and 5 years.

Monitoring of blood lead concentrations in kids may be warranted

The researchers determined that blood lead concentrations, even at a mean concentration of 6.4 µg/dL, were associated with a heightened risk of behavioral problems in Chinese preschool kids. These behavioral issues included internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression and pervasive developmental problems. It was the conclusion of the researchers that monitoring of blood lead concentrations as well as clinical assessments of mental behavior during regular visits to the pediatrician may be justified.

Even with low exposure to lead there are emotional and behavioral problems

It appears for certain that lead in kids’ blood is associated with behavioral and emotional problems
reports the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Even with low exposure to lead there are emotional and behavioral problems in kids. These problems increase as blood lead levels increase in kids.

There is actually no safe lead level

NIEHS Health Scientist Administrator Kimberly Gray, Ph.D. said this research focused on lower blood lead levels than most other studies. Gray sees this as adding more evidence that there is actually no safe lead level. Gray highlights that it is very important to continue to study lead exposure in kids worldwide and to develop a full understanding of short-term and long-term behavioral changes which occur across developmental milestones. It has been firmly documented that lead exposure lowers the IQ of children.

The behavioral and emotional problems which blood lead concentrations of kids in China were associated with included:

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1: Anxiety

2: Depression

3: Aggressiveness

Kids are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead

Senior author Jianghong Liu, Ph.D. said that young kids are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead. This is because lead can affect the developing nerves and brains of kids. Although lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal the sources of exposure to lead are frequently due to human activities, which include

1: Burning fossil fuels

2: Mining

3: Manufacturing

In China exposure to lead is often associated with air pollution. In the United States lead exposure generally comes from lead-containing products, such as paint, caulking, and pipe solder, which are found in older homes.

An understanding of the severe problems which exposure to lead can cause in the developing brains of kids makes it actually criminal to fail to try to protect kids from this exposure. Although the primary avenues of exposure to lead may differ between Chinese kids, American kids and other kids worldwide the final results are just as potentially devastating.

There is no excuse to fail to work as hard as possible to avoid kids from being exposed to lead. Such initiatives will require much more aggressive legislation aimed at fighting air pollution, the acceptability of older homes for habitation and exposure to lead from other sources. It's also a good idea to educate parents and others about how dangerous exposure to lead can be for kids.