Risk of early exposure to lead

Linking Early Life Lead Exposure to Problems in Adulthood

Since the later part of the twentieth century, the study between childhood exposure to lead poisoning and certain adulthood problems have been linked in surprising ways. The damage that occurs to young children when exposed to lead poisoning can be extensive, especially when it goes undetected for extended periods of time.

Why Are Children Most Susceptible?

Children tend to be the most affected by lead poisoning. The reason for this is because they tend to eat and drink more frequently. According to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, children tend to breathe more air per unit of body weight. These several factors alone increase the likelihood of exposure to lead if it’s present in the home.

Leaving them further susceptible is their natural curiosity, and tendency to have nutritional deficiencies that increase the absorption of lead into their system. These risk factors open younger children to lead poisoning that’s associated with varying degrees of toxicity, including:

  • Acute clinical toxicity
  • Subclinical toxicity
  • Hematological toxicity
  • Neurological toxicity

Symptoms of the varying toxicity levels can range from a decrease in homeostasis and certain vitamin metabolisms to anemia, colic, nephropathy, encephalopathy and even death. Lead toxicity can affect every organ in your body, and when exposed while the brain and body are still growing, basic functions like IQ, growth, and hearing are potentially compromised.

Long-Term Consequences of Lead Exposure

Studies had shown that children who were exposed to lead toxicity when they were young, carry potential health problems into adulthood. Because a child’s nervous system is affected, their intellectual development can be slowed down, reducing their IQ and cause other learning difficulties.

A recent study performed by researchers at the University of Colorado showed that a group of students that were exposed to elevated lead levels from the soil had reduced and compressed scores in their elementary school.

Further research supports these claims with correlations between high lead levels and decreases in writing, reading and spelling grades on standardized tests.

Relation of Lead Exposure to Medical and Behavioral Problems

Another long-term effect of elevated blood lead levels for exposed children are behavioral and social problems. Conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and behavioral conduct disorders are also linked to childhood exposure to lead toxicity.

Research results have shown that in 16 out of 18 different studies, there was a significant association between high lead blood levels of 10 µg/dL and some form of ADHD. The Centers for Disease Control has claimed that levels of 5 µg/dL or more require public health actions to be initiated.

Other neurological and behavioral effects that can present in adulthood due to lead exposure in childhood include:

  • Depression or mood changes
  • Diminished cognitive and visual motor performances
  • Increased nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness
  • Decreased libido
  • Reduced IQ scores
  • weakness

Crime and Violence in Relation to Childhood Lead Exposure

In a research study performed at the University of Cincinnati, reports are indicative of a direct link between children who were exposed to lead are at increased risk for criminal behavior later in their lives.

After monitoring a group of children that were exposed to lead both before birth and as young children for 30 years, they kept complete neurological, behavioral and developmental records that presented a pattern, allowing a clear association between lead exposure and criminal activity in adulthood.

The study focused on recruiting pregnant women that lived in surrounding neighborhoods consisting of older, lead-contaminated housing. Researchers regularly monitored the lead blood levels between birth and 6 ½ years old to determine the cumulative lead exposure.

Some of their findings showed that approximately 55% of these subjects had one or more arrests. 28% of these arrests were due to drugs, and 27% were due to a serious motor vehicle violation. However, most of the arrests of the initial subject group were related to acts of violence.

These research studies have been done to identify any potential links between childhood exposure to lead toxicity to adulthood medical and behavioral problems. Since children are the most susceptible to lead poisoning, many different studies have been done to see how extensive the long-term effects could be, and in what areas of adulthood these children may carry the damage.


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