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Andrew D'Arcy
Andrew D'Arcy
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A leading group of pediatricians are calling for stricter national regulation and stronger commitment to eliminate sources of lead before exposure occurs.  Despite dramatic declines in childhood lead poisoning over the past few decades, the United States is doing too little to prevent new poisonings, the nation’s leading group of pediatricians said Monday.

When lead was taken out of products like paint and gasoline, levels of the metal in the blood of U.S. children dropped.  But the American Academy of Pediatrics says the problem is not over.  The AAP explained that there is growing evidence that even low levels of lead can cause irreversible mental damage and behavioral problems.  They are urging policy makers and practitioners to increase efforts to protect children from lead poisoning.  The AAP statement comes at a time when lead is receiving renewed public attention, largely due to the apparent poisoning of thousands of children who drank contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.

The statement said, federal, state and local governments should fully fund and implement programs to get lead out of homes, soil, water and consumer products.  The biggest sources of lead exposure are household dust and soil contaminated by old lead-based paints, the group noted.

Dr. Jennifer Lowry, chair of the AAP Council on Environmental Health and an author of the policy statement, urges “We now know that there is no safe level of blood lead concentration for children, and the best treatment for lead poisoning is to prevent any exposure before it happens.”

Until recently, a blood lead level of 10 ug/dL or more in children was considered a “level of concern”.  Mounting evidence shows even less than half that level causes mental and behavioral problems, such as lower IQ, worse academic performance, aggression, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, and inattention.

Exposure to lead increases as soon as children start teething and crawling.  Living in older homes that are poorly maintained or being renovated increases exposure further.  An estimated 37 million homes in the United States still have lead-based paint.  Children are at raised risk of lead exposure if they live near airports and factories, where lead-contaminated fuel exhaust gets into the soils.  Exposure to lead can also result from pollution in rivers and lakes.

Human bodies have no use for lead, but it can be mistaken for calcium or iron, settling in bones and disrupting important biological processes.  Children’s bodies absorb more lead than adult bodies do.  Dr. Lowry is quoted as saying “Lead is a neurotoxin.  It gets into the brain and it can cause damage.”