A new study has been published in JAMA Pediatrics that states that one-half of American children under the age of six have detectable levels of lead in their blood. The research was done on the blood test results of nearly one million children.
The researchers at Quest Diagnostics and Boston Children’s Hospital worked together on the project. Data analyzed was from 1.1 million blood tests. The ages of the children were under six between October 2018 and February 2020 and spanned all 50 American states.
A large proportion of 50.5 percent of the children had detectable blood lead levels equal to or higher than 1.0 µg/dL, and 1.9 percent of children had levels equal to or higher than 5.0 µg/dL. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) state that there is no safe limit of lead that can be present in a child’s blood. Any proportion can lead to drastic and tragic results.
“Given the lack of a threshold for the deleterious effects of lead in children and largely permanent effects of poisoning, prevention is extremely important,” says study co-author Jeffrey Gudin. “This means limiting exposure and testing of young children blood tested for lead – and having them retested periodically if results indicate a potentially unsafe level.”
The lead exposure also depended on the location and demographics of the geography of the children. Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa, and Utah all saw detectable blood levels in over 70 percent of children sampled.
An editorial from Philip Landrigan and David Bellinger refer to this situation as “a silent epidemic.” They call for more work from the government to remove sources of lead exposure and also point out the higher blood lead levels found in African American and low-income neighborhoods reflect “stark disparities” still present in the US.
“These findings confirm that we still have a long way to go to end childhood lead poisoning in the United States,” write Landrigan and Bellinger. “They reconfirm the unacceptable presence of stark disparities in children’s lead exposure by race, ethnicity, income, and zip code – many of them the cruel legacy of decades of structural racism – a legacy that falls most harshly on the children and families in our society with the fewest resources.”
Morri Markowitz, a lead poisoning expert from the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, says children’s lead levels in the blood have dropped since the past 50 years but it has to be brought down to a zero.
“There’s lead in the environment, and it persists,” Markowitz said to Bloomberg. “It’s way better than 50 years ago, in terms of how much lead is out there, but it’s still there.”