We've long known that a child exposed to lead in the womb or in his or her first six years is susceptible to permanent brain damage. Children exposed to lead from the dust of lead paint, contaminated dirt or even toys and other children's products suffer from reduced IQ, learning and behavioral problems and other developmental damage.
A recent study published in Neuropsychology found that even adults are not immune from brain damage from lead. Those exposed to lead in battery manufacturing plants (other industries that expose adults to lead include semiconductor fabrication, ceramics, welding and soldering, and some construction work) had "significantly lower cognitive scores," according to a University of Pittsburgh study.
Now, a new study shows that children exposed to even very low levels of lead are likely to suffer from hypertension and other cardiovascular problems later in life, according to a study from the State University of New York at Oswego. The study measured the cardiovascular function of 140 9-to-11-year-olds as they completed psychologically stressful computer tasks, and showed that those who had been exposed to very low levels of lead. The researchers hypothesize that lead increases the body's "fight or flight" response to non-stressful situations, leaving it ill equipped to react when confronted with actual stress. (TDG wonders if this hypothesis sheds any light on those mystifying studies that link lead exposure to violence.)
All the children had levels of lead in their blood -- but all at levels well below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's threshold for intervention. Typically, if a pediatrician measures high blood lead levels in a child, the local health department will intervene, offering education to the family about potential sources of lead, and how to reduce exposure. It's unlikely that these children's families would have been counseled about reducing their blood lead levels, but the study shows that even at these low levels, lead can cause damage.
One of the most important things parents can do for their children is to ensure a lead-free environment, and to provide a good nutritious diet, heavy in calcium and iron. Try these 6 Lead Prevention Tips and, if you are planning to renovate your home, ask these 8 questions first.
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