Lead exposures in children persist
More than half of children under 6 years old in the U.S. had detectable lead levels in their blood, with exposures much higher from children in communities with pre-1950s housing or with public insurance or high poverty rates, a new study found.
Why it matters: The study, published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, is the first known national analysis investigating the "association of lead exposure with individual- and community-level factors."
The big picture: A blood lead concentration as low as five micrograms per deciliter can affect the long-term cognitive development of children, which can lead to lifelong learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
- The CDC and the World Health Organization concluded in 2019 there is no safe level of lead exposure.
- Prior studies have shown that if U.S. children born in 2018 had blood lead levels of zero, it would result in an overall benefit of approximately $84 billion during their lifetimes due to increased productivity and decreases in health care, education and criminal justice system costs.
By the numbers: Researchers analyzed blood lead tests given to 1.14 million U.S. children by Quest Diagnostics between October 2018 and February 2020, with nearly 2% having blood lead levels greater than or equal to five micrograms per deciliter.
- The highest proportions of children with some detectable lead were found in Nebraska at 83%, Missouri at 82%, Michigan at 78%, Iowa at 76% and Utah at 73%.
- Nearly 58% of children from predominately Black ZIP codes and 56% of children from predominately Hispanic ZIP codes had detectable blood lead levels compared to 49% from predominately white ZIP codes.
What they're saying: "These findings confirm that we still have a long way to go to end childhood lead poisoning in the United States," Philip Landrigan and David Bellinger write in a corresponding editorial also published Monday.
- "They reconfirm the unacceptable presence of stark disparities in children's lead exposure by race, ethnicity, income, and ZIP code — many of them the cruel legacy of decades of structural racism — a legacy that falls most harshly on the children and families in our society with the fewest resources."
What to watch: The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced it will train contractors working in low-income and other underserved neighborhoods for free on how to rid pre-1970s housing from lead.
- Lead-based paint and the dust it produces as it wears down remains the predominant source of children’s lead exposure.
- The Biden administration also proposed this year to remove and replace all lead water pipes across the U.S.