Even Low Levels of Lead Exposure In Children Can Cause Permanent Damage
At what level does lead exposure become dangerous for children?
Dr. Robert Fischer, Co-Director of the Poverty Center, and Dr. Elizabeth Anthony, Research Assistant Professor at the Poverty Center, examine this question in The Conversation. In the article, " In kids, even low lead levels can cause lasting harm," Fischer and Anthony discuss how children exposed to levels of lead below the current federal threshold still show cognitive deficits and delays in academic progress.
Their research in Cuyahoga County has shown that the effects of lead exposure are measurable as early as the beginning of preschool. They found that, on average, the significantly improved scores of lead-exposed children by the end of the year were still below the scores of non-exposed children from the beginning of the year. The achievement and proficiency gap between lead-exposed and non-exposed children is predicted to increase with age.
They caution against focusing on the number of children with elevated blood lead levels in a given year as the central metric of lead exposure, because it does not account for the cumulative effects of lead exposure on child development. The damage of childhood lead exposure is permanent, and the effects do not go away with decreased blood lead levels.
According to Fischer and Anthony, "there is no known safe level of blood lead for children, and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said as much. The medical research community has documented negative impacts on children with even lower levels of lead exposure than the current 5 micrograms per deciliters standard. With that view, we might consider every child with a confirmed nonzero lead test as at-risk."
The map above is from the Cuyahoga County Invest in Children 2014 Early Childhood Data Brief on Lead Exposure.