Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Even a little lead harms kids, Tristate doctor finds

By Jeanne A. Naujeck
The Associated Press

        BALTIMORE — Children exposed to lead at levels now considered safe scored substantially lower on intelligence tests, according to a Cincinnati researcher who suggests one in 30 children in the United States suffers from its effects.

        Children with a lead concentration of less than 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood scored an average of 11.1 points lower than the mean on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, the researchers found. The mean is the intermediate value between the lowest and highest scores.

        “There is no safe level of blood lead,” said Dr. Bruce Lanphear of Children's Hospital Medical Center and lead author of the lead study presented Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting.

        Children are most commonly exposed by inhaling lead-paint dust or eating paint flakes. Lead-based paint was widely used until it was banned in 1978.

        At high levels, lead can cause kidney damage, seizures, coma and death.

        Experts predicted the study would prompt federal regulators to lower the acceptable blood-lead standard.

        “This is a wonderful study that has very serious implications for public health in the United States and the rest of the world,” said Dr. Daniel Courey, a pediatrics and developmental behavior professor at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio.

        Dr. Lanphear's team tracked 276 children in Rochester, N.Y., from ages 6 months to 5 years, measuring blood lead levels every six months and administering the IQ test at age 5. The results were compared with national health data collected from 1988-94.

        The study also found an average 5.5-point decline in IQ for every additional 10-microgram increase in blood-lead concentration, said Dr. Lanphear.

        The study adjusted for other predictors of lowered IQ such as the mother's IQ, tobacco exposure and intellectual environment in the home, Dr. Lanphear said.

        Lead also is linked to hearing loss, speech delay, balance difficulties and violent tendencies.


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