CINCINNATI—An alliance of leading scientists, health professionals and children’s health advocates, known as Project TENDR, today issued a call for national goals necessary to eliminate lead poisoning in American children by 2021. In a viewpoint published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics
, Aimin Chen, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, along with researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital
and Simon Fraser University
, assert that fully protecting children from lead now and in future generations is eminently doable.
"We want to reduce exposure so that by 2021 there is no child with blood lead levels above 5 microgram/deciliter which is the current reference limit set by the Centers for Disease Control. Currently about 2.5 percent of U.S. children between ages 1 and 5 still have blood lead levels above that,” says Chen. "Some may say that lead is already low or that we are pushing for too much, but, lead is entirely toxic, period.”
The TENDR experts have charted a course for safeguarding children from lead poisoning within five years and eliminating exposures to lead by 2030. The alliance recommends and says that, if fully adopted, these new national goals are achievable within five years:
- Federal agencies adopt health-based standards and action levels that rely on the most up-to-date scientific knowledge.
- Federal, state and local governments protect pregnant women and children by identifying and remediating sources of lead exposure prior to exposure.
- Congress creates an independent expert advisory committee to develop and fund a long-term national strategy to eliminate lead toxicity in pregnant women and children.
The article’s authors recommend setting new health-based standards and action levels to protect all children from lead poisoning. The key to prevention is to avoid exposures by identifying and eliminating sources of lead in the environment.
"Many [children] are exposed to lead without any awareness,” says Chen. "And clinical lead poisoning still occurs; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center still sees lead poisoning cases in kids. In these cases, it can go beyond behavioral issues, causing physical symptoms like abdominal pain, headache or anemia.”
Recent research shows that even low levels of lead in a child’s blood can harm brain development, leading to learning disabilities, lowered IQ and attention disorders. As confirmed by the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, one in six children in the U.S. has a learning or developmental disability. On average, it costs twice as much to educate a child with a learning or developmental disability as it does to educate a child without one according to the National Education Association and the American Institutes for Research.
"We are also recommending that the government work to, of course, ban any new use of lead and phase out any existing products still using lead. For example while our automobile gasoline is unleaded, lead is still in aviation gasoline, car batteries, wheel weights and some imported commercial and industrial products,” Chen says.
These measures incur high benefits for low costs. A 2009 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that for every $1 spent to reduce exposures to lead, society would benefit by $17-$221.
At its interim meeting in November 2016, the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates adopted policy supporting regulations and efforts designed to protect young children from lead exposure, in alignment with Project TENDR’s goals.
The authors received no external funding for the viewpoint. Project TENDR is supported by the John Merck Fund, Passport Foundation, Ceres Trust and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.