Lead never really goes away. The heavy metal doesn’t degrade. So, once a person is exposed and gets lead in their system, it tends to hang around and cause a lot of trouble – sort of like a gift from Hell that just keeps on giving.
And that’s if someone doesn’t get a high enough dose to kill them.
Off and on the public’s radar screen over the last 30 to 40 years, lead made it back into the news yesterday. An advisory panel recommended to the Centers for Disease Control that the definition of lead poisoning for young children be lowered from 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to 5 micrograms.
The substance is especially cruel to exposed children – a fact borne out by extensive and groundbreaking research at Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Cincinnati (UC) over the last 30 years. The Cincinnati Cohort Lead Study is the longest-running research project on lead’s long-term effects on kids: http://bit.ly/yw6eSD.
In fact, researchers here have been looking into lead’s impact on inner city kids for so long that now they are studying how exposure is affecting the adult lives of these former children. Too often they are finding the story is one of young adults struggling to cope with life, according to study leader Kim Dietrich, an environmental health scientist at UC and member of the CDC lead advisory panel that made the Jan. 4 recommendation.
Lead used to be a common ingredient in paint and gasoline. Its use has been banned for decades, but the permanence of its physical structure means the metal and its impact are still around – in un-rehabilitated older buildings, contaminated dirt, and sadly in the people who have been exposed.
Research shows relatively low levels of lead exposure can inhibit normal child brain development, reduce intelligence, cause various behavioral problems, and in some cases even contribute to criminal behavior. The metal has been linked to damaged kidneys and other organs, and higher exposures can cause coma and death.
Unfortunately, there are no medical treatments for lead poisoning. As Dr. Nicholas Newman, who directs the environmental health and lead clinic at Cincinnati Children’s, explained to Associated Press in a story on Jan. 5, the best option available is preventing exposure altogether.