Health & Medicine

Advice from the docs: Lead poisoning in kids

Q : I know that lead poisoning causes brain damage and developmental problems in children.

And a Washington Post article pointed out that Freddie Grey, whose death after being in police custody sparked the Baltimore riots, and his siblings were childhood victims of lead poisoning.

Why isn’t cleaning up lead paint pollution more of a priority in our country?

Frank G., Baltimore

A: The Washington Post article outlined a lawsuit that Grey’s family brought against their landlord years ago for health problems their children developed from lead poisoning.

Studies show that exposure even to low levels of dust from lead paint (found in homes built before 1978) can affect a child’s cognitive function irreparably -- and it doesn’t stop there. It also can affect cardiovascular health and the endocrine and immune systems and cause aggressive behavior. In fact, a kid with lead poisoning is seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system than a lead-free child, according to the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

It’s hard to say how many kids are affected, because we now realize that blood levels as low as 5 mcg per deciliter can cause brain damage (we used to think it took four times that), so a lot of suffering kids were overlooked. But today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are at least 4 million households with children who are being exposed to high levels of lead. That’s more than 4 million children who may have their futures stolen from them.

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