Policy-makers Should Focus on Lead Poisoning in Children, Researchers Say

Posted: April 19, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: April 16, 2010 at 2:01 pm

By Tara Laskowski

Water, toys and paint can contain lead that is dangerous to children even at low levels.

New Mason research is suggesting it’s time to re-examine the dangers of lead exposure in children.

Psychology graduate student Claire Cole and professor Adam Winsler recently published a social policy report outlining the dangers of low levels of lead exposure to children.

They suggest that policy-makers should lower the allowable lead level requirements, increase regulation on lead pipes and imported toys that might contain lead and require homeowners to test houses for lead paint. They also call for states to do a better job of testing and reporting lead levels in water supplies.

Though much research has been done on the effects of high levels of lead on children, new research is showing that even low levels of lead exposure have negative effects on development.

Exposure can cause drops in IQ and math performance and increases in disruptive behavior and ADHD. There are also studies, Cole says, that show that people exposed to dangerous levels of lead when they are children tend to commit more crimes when they are older.

“Children are being exposed to unacceptable levels of lead daily,” says Cole. “Even low levels that were once considered safe can cause damage.”

Lead affects the brain by taking the place of calcium and other minerals in bone and brain tissue. It disrupts the neurochemical reactions in the brain and can harm development over a long period of time.

Children in low-income families are more likely to be exposed to lead than others, and they appear more sensitive to lead’s effects and show more deficits at lower levels.

Cole recommends that parents, especially those who live in older homes, should watch what their children ingest and look for any significant behavioral changes. She says that many states provide free lead tests, and parents should take advantage of those if they are concerned.

“We would like to encourage better collaboration among government agencies,” says Cole. “There is a lot of great information out there, but it needs to be more accessible to the general public.”

A full copy of the study can be found online.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu