Pediatrician Group Seeks Increased Testing and More Stringent Lead Exposure Rules

Cynthia Diaz-Shephardenvironmental toxicity, Lead Poisoning

Pediatrician Group Seeks More Testing & Lead Exposure Rules

Although the blood level of United States children dropped when lead was removed from products such as paint and gasoline, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) indicates that the lead problem still exists.

Members of the AAP’s environmental health council reported in the journal, Pediatrics, this week that, “Most existing lead standards fail to protect children.” In fact, the pediatric group wrote that the standards by which lead is measured may be present in “paint, water, dust, and soil” and are not based on health standards but, rather, on what is possible to attain. This creates an “an illusion of safety,” they wrote, according to National Public Radio (NPR).

“We’ve taken lead out of the paint and out of the gasoline, but the history is still present,” said Dr. Jennifer Lowry, report co-author and a medical toxicologist with Children’s Mercy hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, NPR reported. Older homes with older paint and plumbing and homes built on prior industrial sites may contain lead-contaminated dust, water, and soil. When children ingest these materials, they are ingesting lead, which likely enters their bloodstreams, noted NPR. NPR also wrote that human bodies have no use for lead; however, the dangerous heavy metal is often confused for calcium or iron and settles into the bones, disrupting key biological processes. Because children’s bodies absorb more lead than adults’, the risk is significant. “Lead is a neurotoxin,” Lowry wrote. “It gets into the brain and it can cause damage.”

Low-level lead exposure has been found to impact IQ scores, attention, and behavior. Some estimates found that stopping children from coming into contact with lead would stop the loss of more than 20 million IQ points, NPR wrote.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point out that if a child’s blood contains more than five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, health care providers should be concerned. At this level, the child is in the 2.5 percent of children, nationwide, with the highest blood lead levels. “But at that point, when we find out that they have an elevated lead level, the harm has already been done,” Lowry said, according to NPR. “We cannot have our children be canaries in the coal mine, where they get exposed first and then we have to try to fix it. If we want to actually do the right thing, we should prevent it from happening in the first place.”

The AAP recommends that pediatricians and primary care providers proactively test children—especially children between the ages of one and two and children who live in areas where there are homes built before 1960—for increased blood lead levels. The AAP, noted NPR, seeks updated national limits for lead in house dust, water, and soil, as well as federal funding for a variety of initiatives, including removing lead paint and dust from public housing and replacing lead service lines that bring water into homes.

“We should know where the old houses are that were built before 1960, where the soil is next to the highways, where we have these lead problems and actually fix it before we send our kids out to live in those environments,” Lowry said. Meanwhile, some 37 million homes in the U.S. still contain lead-based paint; another six million homes receive drinking water through lead pipes.