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War Against Lead Exposure Not Yet Over: Pediatricians Call For More Testing, Tighter Rules

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There is no safe level of lead for kids – and protecting them entails tighter regulations, more federal resources and joint action from the government and doctors, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has argued.

The national pediatric group released a new statement June 20, published in the journal Pediatrics, to call for better action in preventing exposure and poisoning to lead, a known cause of brain damage in children.

“We now know that there is no safe level of blood lead concentration for children, and the best ‘treatment’ for lead poisoning is to prevent any exposure before it happens,” said statement author and AAP Council on Environmental Health chair Dr. Jennifer Lowry, hitting most current lead standards for offering only “an illusion of safety” for children.

While the group is saying there is no safe level in the substance, past AAP guidelines set 10 micrograms of led per deciliter of blood as a “level of concern.” Evidence indicates now that problems with lead start at levels less than half the said amount, including lower IQ scores, impulsivity, inattention, hyperactivity and aggression.

The statement harped on the need for expanding funding to remove existing lead hazards at homes, as well as establishing federal standards to define and test lead hazards in water, house dust and soil. It also called on schools to ensure water fountains do not go beyond lead concentrations of over one parts per million (ppm).

The recommendations came as the city of Flint in Michigan continues to grapple with the effects of change in its source of municipal water system, resulting in increased levels of the neurotoxin that can harm kids. The drinking water crisis, according to AAP president Dr. Benard Dreyer, is an indicator of the aging water infrastructure in the country that is putting children’s health at stake.

Experts believe that the Flint situation helped put the spotlight on the ongoing problem – a return to focusing on primary prevention, Dr. Aparna Bole of Cleveland’s University Hospitals at Rainbow Babies & Children told ABC News. Many efforts in response to lead poisoning, he cited, wait for the child to be identified before intervening.

The AAP now recommends pediatricians to screen kids from 12 to 24 months for increased lead concentrations in the blood if they reside in places where a quarter or more of housing was built before 1960. For instance, about 37 million U.S. homes today still contain lead-based paint.

The association added that the benefits of prevention include saving over 20 million IQ points among kids as well as annual dollar costs linked to lead exposure.

Photo: Darwin Bell | Flickr

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