Blood Lead Levels in American Children

Introduction:

In an article in Science magazine Doctor Bruce Lanphear writes that about one child in twenty in the U.S. has toxic levels of lead in their blood. High blood lead; that is, greater than 70 micrograms per deciliter of blood, can result in serious disease, such as mental retardation, seizures, cerebral palsy, blindness, or death. Lower levels impair children’s development, impair hearing and increase an individual’s risk of heart attack and stroke in adulthood.

Sources of lead in the human environment have been gasoline, lead-solder in canned foods and plumbing, batteries, and lead-based paints. Although lead-based paints — paints with greater than 0.06 parts per million of lead — were eliminated in 1978, it is estimated that over 10 million occupied houses in the United States contain non-intact lead paint. Lead-based paints are not a hazard if the paint is kept in good condition, but poorly maintained surfaces shed lead-contaminated chips and dust. Toddlers and young children who live in older, poorly maintained housing or older housing undergoing renovation are at the highest risk of exposure to lead hazards. We spoke with Dr. Lanphear about what should be done to reduce children’s exposure to lead.

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