Lead Exposure Blamed For Gaps In Test Scores Between Children? Reading & Math Performance Affected

By Olivia Reese, Parent Herald October 06, 10:08 am

Even low lead levels in children's blood can negatively impact their performance at school. A new study from researchers at Brown University found that preschoolers exposed to lead have low scores in reading tests.

The research titled "Do Low Levels of Blood Lead Reduce Children's Future Test Scores?" examined eight groups of children in Rhode Island born between 1997 and 2005, periods which correspond to the state's two remediation programs, Science Daily reported. One program required all landlords of buildings with high levels of lead to remediate the lead. The other program mandated all landlords to alleviate lead hazards in home, even though elevated lead levels weren't reported.

Lead is known to be toxic to the human body since the Roman times, but it was only outlawed as a paint additive in 1978. Children who are most exposed to lead-based paint are those who come from minority and low-income families, which are mostly African-Americans.

According to the study's authors, residential segregation of the poor occur in "the four core urban areas of the state located within Providence County." This may also explain the continuing gaps in test scores between children from various socioeconomic groups.

Since the alarm about lead poisoning sounded, blood lead levels have reached historical lows. The study's researchers, however, stressed that even low lead content in the blood can negatively affect children's academic performance.

Study authors Anna Aizer, Janet Curry, Dr. Peter Simon and Dr. Patrick Vivier found a one point decline in reading test performance for each one unit increase in a child's blood lead levels. There is also a 3.1 percent point increase in children's likelihood of having "substantially below proficient" reading scores. Lead levels' effect on math test scores is still imprecise, but the researchers still found the chemical's negative effects.

Lead's repercussions to a person's health are the same when it is breathed, swallowed or absorbed via particles. The body, however, absorbs higher lead levels when it is breathed in, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The symptoms of lead poisoning are abdominal pain, constipation, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, memory loss, tiredness, pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet and weakness. High lead exposure can also cause anemia, kidney, heart problems, brain damag and even death.

Lead is capable of crossing the placental barrier of a pregnant woman. When this happens, lead can damage the developing fetus' nervous system and affect its behavior and intelligence. Lead can also cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility in both men and women.

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