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Lead Exposure May Increase Violent Behavior

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The effect seems to cut across different social strata and ethnic groups.

"The message is that we really need to push for more aggressive regulations to prevent childhood lead exposure from substandard housing and to demand standards from the Environmental Protection Agency to adequately protect children," says Lanphear.

"The association [between lead exposure and violence] is still in its infancy in terms of research," says James R. Campbell, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester (N.Y.). "It may be true, but more work needs to be done."

However "if it's true," he says, "it definitely points to an impetus for doing more things to get rid of lead."

Lead is associated with decrease in IQ levels and/or learning disability among children, he says

In addition, studies in rodents have shown that lead may decrease bone density. Low bone density is risk factor for developing the osteoporosis later in life.

How do children get exposed to lead?

"We still see lead in older homes built before 1960 where lead-based paint was used," he tells WebMD. When these homes are in poor condition and the paint is deteriorating, a child often eats paint chips off the floor. Even harder to spot, "deteriorated paint becomes part of the dust in the home and young children play on floor and then stick their hands in their mouth," he says.

Lead is widespread in the environment, and people absorb lead from a variety of sources every day. Although lead has been used in numerous consumer products, the most important sources of lead exposure to the general population include soil and dust, drinking water (from corrosion of plumbing systems), lead-based paint, occupational exposure, or hobbies,

So what's a parent to do?

"Part of the scary thing is that if your child has lead exposure, there will not be any overt, obvious symptoms that will prompt a parent to say 'let's have this looked at,' " says Campbell. Children who are exposed to lead may be more irritable, move around more, or have stomach pain, but these behaviors/symptoms still fall within the range of what is considered normal, he explains.

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