Mar 13, 2021 - Health

COVID lockdowns exposed more kids to toxic lead

Illustration of a kid looking at the elemental symbol of lead.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Pandemic lockdowns left thousands of American kids in homes with high levels of lead exposure.

The big picture: Lead is a potent neurotoxin, especially for children, and heightened exposure during the pandemic could result in significant problems down the road.

By the numbers: According to a report last month by the CDC, 34% fewer U.S. children had blood lead level testing between January and May 2020 compared to the same time period the previous year.

  • As a result, the agency estimates nearly 10,000 additional children with high levels of lead in their blood may have gone undetected.

Background: There is no safe level of lead exposure, but blood lead concentrations as low as 5 micrograms per deciliter can affect the long-term cognitive development of children, leading to lifelong learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

Context: The percentage of U.S. children with high levels of lead in their blood has fallen dramatically since efforts to phase lead out of the environment began in the late 1970s.

  • But more than 20 million housing units in the U.S. still contain lead-based paint, which is why many states recommend that young children have their blood tested for exposure.
  • The pandemic severely disrupted those screenings, as well as ongoing efforts to remove lead from old buildings, meaning thousands of children — who are more likely to be poor and from minority backgrounds — could be harmed for life.
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