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Kids and Lead Poisoning, One More Reason To Take Action

Kids and lead poisoning

Kids and lead is a known unhealthy combination, and now a new study reveals another reason for parents and others to prevent children from exposure to this toxic heavy metal. The report in Pediatrics warns that even low levels of lead can reduce the ability of young children to read.

Poor reading readiness is new regarding lead poisoning

This new study is the first time researchers have examined a relationship between exposure to lead and reading readiness in young children. It is not the first time, however, lead exposure has been shown to cause significant healthand behavior problems in youngsters, as is described below.

The new finding, reported by Pat McLaine, DPH, of the University of Maryland, and colleagues notes that even though the “level of concern” for lead in children, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a quarter of a century ago, is 10 micrograms per deciliter (10 ug/dL), the kindergarteners in their study who had blood lead levels between 5 and 9 ug/dL did not perform well on reading readiness.

Thus it was no surprise that children with lead levels of 10 ug/dL or higher performed even worse on reading readiness tests. The 3,406 children in the study had been tested for lead levels an average of three times before they entered kindergarten.

What the tests showed
The study participants were largely low income and consisted of nearly 60 percent Hispanics. Here are some of the findings:

  • Average blood lead levels were 4.2 ug/dL overall
  • 20 percent of the children had at least one reading of 10 ug/dL or higher
  • More than two-thirds of the children had at least one reading of 5 ug/dL or higher
  • Blacks and children whose first language was not English or Spanish had the highest levels of lead
  • Researchers saw a clear relationship between exposure to lead early in life and level of kindergarten reading readiness, even after they made adjustments for language spoken, socioeconomic status, and other factors

The authors concluded that their findings “suggest the need to evaluate current screening approaches for early reading intervention and to determine whether adding a history of elevated [blood lead levels] could improve targeting of children who are at risk of school failure.”

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More about the dangers of lead exposure
Children are typically exposed to lead in old paint, which is frequently found in older homes and apartments. Paint made with lead has a sweet taste, and young children sometimes eat peeling paint, while another source can be toys and school supplies made with lead paint.

Another source of lead recently in the news is rice. A study presented at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society reported that exceedingly high levels of lead, about 30 to 60 times greater than the tolerable intake set by the Food and Drug Administration for infants and children, had been found in various rice products analyzed.

Lead exposure in young children can result in headache, constipation, abdominal pain, and low energy levels. Previous research has also shown lead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities, kidney damage, reduced IQ, hearing problems, attention deficit, and aggressive behavior.

This latter consequence of lead exposure is associated with a finding from a Southern University Law Center study, in which it was noted that toxic levels of lead among children may result in juvenile delinquency. Investigator Summer Miller pointed out that “levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter show enough lead exposure to diagnose lead poisoning.”

Parents and other concerned adults who are responsible for young children should check for lead paint in their child’s environment, avoid using cookware or utensils that may contain lead, and have their drinking water tested. Anyone who is concerned that a child may have been exposed to lead should ask their healthcare provider for a blood test for their youngster.

Exposure to lead opens the door to numerous serious health risks for young children that can have a lifelong impact. Lead poisoning remains a very real possibility among young children, so be sure to take steps to prevent exposure to this toxin.

McLaine P et al. Elevated blood lead levels and reading readiness at the start of kindergarten. Pediatrics 2013
Miller S. Lead poisoning: the epidemic hitting the US juvenile justice system. International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry 2013; 5:213-20

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