Lead exposure: Half of US adults exposed to harmful lead levels as kids, study estimates

More than 170 million people born in the United States and adults in 2015 were exposed to harmful levels of lead as children, according to a new study.

The researchers used data on blood lead levels, inventory and leaded gasoline consumption to look at how prevalent lead exposure was from early childhood in the country between 1940 and 2015.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday estimated that half of the US adult population in 2015 was exposed to levels in excess of five micrograms per deciliter – the limit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for harmful exposure. in lead. at that time.

Scientists from Florida State University and Duke University also found that 90% of children born in the United States between 1950 and 1981 had blood lead levels above the CDC threshold. And the researchers found a significant impact on cognitive development: on average, early childhood exposure to lead resulted in a drop in IQ of 2.6 points.

The researchers looked only at lead exposure caused by leaded gasoline, the predominant form of exposure from the 1940s to the late 1980s, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Leaded gasoline for road vehicles was phased out in the 1970s and finally banned in 1996.

The study’s lead author, Michael McFarland, an associate professor of sociology at Florida State University, said the findings were “outrageous” because lead exposure had long been known to be harmful, based on anecdotal evidence of the effects of lead on health. the story.

Although the United States has enacted stricter regulations to protect Americans from lead poisoning in recent decades, the effects of exposure to public health can last for decades, experts told the Associated Press.

“Childhood lead exposure is not just here and now. It will affect your lifelong health,” said Abheet Solomon, Senior Program Director at the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Early childhood exposure to lead is known to have many effects on cognitive development, but it also increases the risk of developing hypertension and heart disease, experts said.

“I think the connection to IQ is bigger than we thought, and it’s surprisingly large,” said Ted Schwaba, a University of Texas-Austin researcher studying personality psychology who was not part of the new study.

Schwaba said using an average from the study to represent the cognitive effects of lead exposure could lead to overestimation of the effects in some individuals and underestimation in others.

Previous research on the relationship between lead exposure and IQ has found a similar impact, albeit over a shorter study period.

Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver who has researched lead exposure and IQ, said a 2005 study found that initial lead exposure was the most harmful when it came to cognitive loss. as measured by IQ.

“The most tragic part is that we continue to make the same … mistakes again,” Lanphear said. “First it was lead, then it was air pollution … Now it’s PFAS chemicals and phthalates (chemicals used to make plastics more durable). And it goes on and on.

“And we can not stop long enough to wonder if we regulate the chemicals differently,” he said.

Copyright © 2022 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Lead exposure: Half of US adults exposed to harmful lead levels as kids, study estimates Source link Lead exposure: Half of US adults exposed to harmful lead levels as kids, study estimates

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