Originally Posted on September 22, 2013 by Nancy Bailey.
This was posted last September and I have included some changes and updates.
Talking about children and lead poisoning can quickly make you look like a harbinger of bad news–a real Debbie Downer. Lead poisoning is probably not a problem for most children, but it is a serious issue for children who live in certain communities. And I also would remind you to be careful if you live in an old house that could still contain lead paint etc.
There are reformers who go so far as to scoff at this issue.
But shouldn’t there be some conversation about the effects lead exposure might still have on, first of all, children and their health, and also their low test scores? There are current studies–just little if any conversation.
Has the lead disappeared? No!
Several years ago my husband and I stumbled upon an old house for sale. The price was phenomenally low and it was in a beautiful location. We seriously thought about making an offer and were excited about the prospect of remodeling. After discussing all the work that needed to be done, we decided not to move forward.
One thing we learned was that, being so old, the house would need special consideration for lead removal. It added somewhat to the cost of remodeling. This wasn’t the main reason we decided not to pursue the house purchase (the whole idea began to overwhelm us), but I often think about the many old houses that don’t get remodeled that do have lead content.
How many children live in those old houses without the remodeling? How many poor children live in poor old rundown houses?
The question is why are we not looking at the issue of lead poisoning when it comes to low test scores? Why is this issue continually buried and never highlighted in the mainstream media? It is mostly a problem of the poor but it can affect any child.
CLEAR Corps: Protecting the Potential of Children (CC) addresses the serious issue of harmful effects of high blood levels of lead in children and the relationship to student achievement. They also look at other health related issues concerning young children.
As far as the lead issue, CC claims “Current state and federal policies require blood lead testing for children on Medicaid; however, compliance with this requirement continues to be an issue. Many uninsured and commercially insured children are equally at risk for lead poisoning and thousands of them go untested each year.” They list barriers involved with testing, and they suggest Mobile Community Lead Screening that take testing to the community.
Several years ago Michael T. Martin wrote “A Strange Ignorance: The Role of Lead Poisoning in Failing Schools.” I can no longer find Michael’s outstanding report on the Arizona School Board Association’s website. Nor can I reach Michael. If anyone finds the report online please let me know and I will provide the link. In the meantime some of the information he provided in the past can be found here and on Susan Ohanian’s site here.
Martin’s lead concerns for one school district in particular, were questioned by Jay P. Greene, University of Arkansas’s poly sci. major turned education expert. Greene is a big education reformer and a fond supporter of anything having to do with tests and privatization.
Here are at least two studies that have found a connection with high Blood Lead Levels (BLL) and school problems.
In 2009, Detroit’s Department of Health and Wellness Promotion and Detroit Public Schools were involved in a study that found more students with higher lead levels were in special education and also dropped out of school more often. BLLs could also put students behind on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) achievement testing.
The University of Michigan reported “Students with blood levels of 2-5 micrograms/decileter (ug/dl), a level currently not deemed dangerous, had a 33% higher likelihood of a poor MEAP performance. Students whose BLLs were over 5 ug/dl as children had a 50% higher likelihood of doing poorly on the MEAP. Currently, the federal government deems levels of 10 ug/dl and above to be dangerous, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a level of 5 ug/dl should be the poisoning threshold.”
Another study by Duke and North Carolina Central University, examined 35,000 children and also indicated children below age seven are still vulnerable to even small amounts of ingested lead. “Exposure to lead in early childhood significantly contributes to lower performances on end-of-grade (EOG) reading tests among minority and low-income children, who historically are at higher risk for lead exposure….”
Here is an 2014 update about lead poisoning and children in North Carolina and housing.
Mothers who receive inadequate prenatal care also risk having children who later exhibit high BLLs.
Why has the lead issue been pushed aside in the discussion of children and their health and school achievement?
In my last correspondence with Michael, he informed me that the CDC was in the process of shutting down the Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in August of 2012. The memo he’d received stated that no longer would there be a national push for lead poisoning surveillance or blood lab oversight, monitoring or data analysis. Staff would be reassigned, or those in a vital staff capacity would just “go away.”
Lead poisoning is still an issue and parents and children should be helped with prevention and information. High BLL is also one of many variables that should be considered when a child tests poorly in school.
It is especially frustrating when high stakes tests are used to fail students, fire teachers, and close schools without considering a wide variety of outside variables, such as lead poisoning.
It is still, after all these years, as Michel T. Martin once told us
“a very strange ignorance….”
Nicholas Swenson says
I stumbled upon A Strange Ignorance yesterday, and found this post today.
Man lead is deep. The rabbit hole … it keeps going and going and going. So much wrong …. I wonder who’s the merchant of doubt behind the reason society has figured out the lead problem.
You realize this problem is ridiculously global, as well? Something like 75% of the paint sold in Russia has dangerous levels of lead? Similar levels apply to China. Some parts of China still use leaded gasoline. There are places in Peru where entire villages have high blood levels because lead is a cheap material for things like fishing net sinks and the likes. One research found children just gnawing on lead bars …
Man we can’t even solve this problem here … how is anywhere else going to solve it?
Nancy Bailey says
It is a serious issue, Nicholas, and I’m afraid it doesn’t generate much concern. Thank you for bringing to light the world problem of lead. I need to read more about this and do another post. Take care.
Nicholas Swenson says
Here’s what I just wrote up for Micheal Martin, but he hasn’t validated it yet. I wonder what you think:
I tell my friends about it, and they think I’m crazy. But they are pretty much right to have those feelings:
I see something much broader than just poisoning in the low income communities.
I see the entire world, every single person alive, experiencing some negative consequence due massive, global lead pollution.
No one in power is talking about it, who the hell would want to? Fixing the lead problem of humanity (pun intended – it’s so awesome a pun is built into the name) implies mind boggling societal changes people running the current systems couldn’t even imagine as a possibility.
See, thing about lead is, two whole generations grew up in a distinctly lead poisoned smog. Guess what that must have had on general intelligence? Two whole generations of people (in America at least) grew up with what would be called today, mental retardation. You couldn’t see it at the time, because _eveyone_ was experienced chronic lead poisoning. Everyone was made stupider. I really do not see any way that could have not happened. Now did that make them completely non-functional? No, life still went on. Living doesn’t require a whole lot of high intelligence functioning. Some people were more affected than others because of subtle variations in body chemistry, that likely affected where the lead had effects. But on the whole … you see the evidence in the recent rise of absolute IQ … which was statistically proven to be due to the dramatic reduction in lead exposure in recent decades. That rise isn’t continuing though. The lead problem wasn’t actually solved by removing leaded gasoline, only mitigated. Now we’re dealing with simply background, mobilized, environmental lead reaching points where it will start effect humanity … via food and water. Or at least, I foresee that happening. I need to prove that one point, and my theory will be solid.
But honestly, I feel lead is the ultimate reason you [Martin] couldn’t fight lead in the school system. It was too complex a problem, too abstract for the majority of people to understand, because with the leaded intelligence they had left, was spent on just navigating a rapidly increasing world of complexity, that is called the information age. I feel lead can explain the locked up politics we have, and distinct lack of political change. People simply cannot comprehend new systems because that would require more change than their leaded minds can handle. This is further compounded by my generation, which doesn’t understand the decisions of the past, but we assume they must have been made for a good reason … when they were really just misguided and shortsighted decisions due to leaded intelligence. It extremely time consuming and quite confusing to sort through.
The fuckery keeps going too. My generation is experiencing a whole host of new problems, no one can explain (but me, I guess). You know how Generation X grew up in lead? As you know, it got stored in their bones. Guess what happened when generation Y was born? Lead gets mobilized during fetal development, and my generation gets to deal with widespread ADD, depression, autism, schizophrenia. It probably explains the unexplainable rise in childhood leukemia, as the vast majority have no discernible “factors.” I would guess no one checked the lead levels of the mother’s tibia. If those immune system cells got screwed up early as a fetus due to lead damage … well … maybe you get leukemia.
I myself have been struggling for years against long standing dysthymia and ADD. I’m a 25 year-old, quite frankly rich (70k a year job, living at my parents), white dude. I honestly just thought I was doomed to be chronically lazy. I thought I just wasn’t born as a proper human. That’s a really shitty feeling to go through experiencing large portions of my life. I can’t even function properly without at least both vitamin D and ADD meds. The only reason I even made it through college is I chose engineering, which allows for plenty of time to systematically design things. I learned to mostly work within my capabilities using technology as crutch. But, those never made up for the emotional difficulties I was experiencing. I never really started believing in myself until I started taking meds. I never realized the potential I was, as all of humanity still is, failing to achieve … due things I couldn’t explain. Lead presents an explanation so complete it’s almost scary …
Lead is still hiding too. Found a study the mentioning 75% of porcelain and 60% of enamel bathtub have high amounts of lead. That’s just absurd. Who knows what other places lead is hiding? Old varnishes? Old vinyl mini blinds? Toys from china? Old bathroom tiles? Old brass faucets? Old lead solder? They had a scare in washington DC a few years back about old lead pipes … wtf. We still have lead pipes hiding? Who’s going to take of that?
We haven’t even started talking about the rest of the world. 75% of the _new_ paints in Russia still have dangerously high levels of lead, much less any of the old paints. Other portions of world, like China, still have similar problems. We could have problems like this in our world we don’t even realize. My girlfriend was talking about study done in South Korea recently that found dangerously high amounts of lead in many of newly install astroturfs in schools. The school she had worked at had more than 1000 ppm in their astroturf … which is absurd.
Best of all, there’s no one to blame. Anyone even remotely responsible for this mess is dead. It’s not my generation’s fault, your generation’s fault, or even my grandparent’s fault. We’re all victims alike of the failures of previous incredibly short sighted decision making of the previous generations. Pointing fingers is something I don’t want happening in this, because that only distracts from the solution, whatever grand solution that must be.
Do you think I’m right? If I’m not right … then I have zero faith that humanity will survive the next 100 years. Global warming is happening. Ocean acidification is happening. When we melt the ice caps … I just hope we don’t end up the greenhouse gas nightmare than is Venus.