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'Acceptable' Lead Levels Linked to Lower IQ Scores in Kids

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"If there really is a 10-point drop in IQ with the initial 10 microgram per deciliter [of lead in the blood], that's huge," says Lanphear of Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. And once the IQ points are lost, Lanphear says they never come back.

Daniel Coury, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics at Ohio State University, believes that Lanphear's findings will encourage public health officials to rethink the lead issue. "Technically, Dr. Lanphear's data say, no lead is good lead," Coury says.

Lanphear believes that poor neighborhoods endure a disproportionate share of lead toxicity.

"How much of that association of lead and IQ is really a factor of poverty?" asks Lanphear? "If there's a problem, fix it before a child moves in, using housing codes before a house is bought."

To keep children safe from lead poisoning, remember the following:

  • Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
  • Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly.
  • Make sure that children wash their hands before meals, naptime, and bedtime.
  • Try not to bring lead dust into the home. (If you work in construction, in demolition, in painting, with batteries, in a radiator repair shop, or in a lead factory, or if your hobbies involve lead, you may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes.)
  • If your home was built before 1950, ask your pediatrician to test your child for lead.
  • If your home was built before 1978, talk to your pediatrician or health department about safe ways to remodel before any work is done.
  • Clean and cover any chalking, flaking, or chipping paint with a new coat of paint, duct tape, or contact paper.
  • Repair areas where paint is dusting, chipping, or peeling before placing cribs, playpens, beds, or highchairs next to them.
  • Check with your pediatrician or health department to see if your area has a problem with lead in the water.

Even though small, Lanphear's study is consistent with larger population data, indicating that the existing lead standards need to be toughened. That is in spite of the fact that the EPA just toughened its latest recommendations for lead levels in blood in January. The new recommendations are 25 times as strict.

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