Earth Sciences Professor Co-Authors New Study Highlighting Long-term Effects of Lead Exposure in Children

Release Date: 
Mar 7 2013

The following copy was released by the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

Gabe FilippelliA new 9-year study of more than 367,000 children in Detroit supports the idea that a mysterious seasonal increase in blood lead levels –- observed in urban areas throughout the United States and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere -- results from contact with outdoor dust. The scientists, who report in ACS’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T), say the results have implications for government efforts to control childhood exposure to lead, which can have serious health consequences.

Shawn P. McElmurry and colleagues point out that average blood lead levels BLLs in the U. S. and globally declined following the elimination of lead from gasoline, paint, water pipes and solder used to seal canned goods. In addition to McElmurry, who is with Wayne State University in Detroit, the team included Sammy Zahran, of Colorado State University; Gabriel M. Filipelli, of Indiana University-Purdue University,Indianapolis; and Mark Laidlaw and Mark P. Taylor, of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Time Magazine also recently published a report based on the recent study.

Much of the current lead in major urban areas is from those “legacy” and human exposure takes the form of fine particles deposited in the soil years ago and swept up into the air as fine particles. Past research identified a seasonal trend in blood lead levels in children in Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, Mulwaukee and other cities. Those levels increase, often by more than 10 percent, in July, August, and September. Blood lead levels then decrease during winter and spring.

The scientists set out to test a hypothesis implicating contact with lead-contaminated dust while children are outdoors and engaged in warm-weather activities – at a time when wind, humidity and other meteorological factors increase the amounts of dust in the air.

Their ES&T report describes research that strongly supports airborne dust as the reason for the seasonal trends in blood lead levels. It shows a correlation between airborne dust levels in Detroit and blood lead levels in children.

“Our findings suggest that the federal government’s continued emphasis on lead-based paint may be out-of-step (logically) with the evidence presented and an improvement in child health is likely achievable by focusing on the resuspension of soil lead as a source of exposure,” the report states. “Given that current education has been found to be ineffective in reducing children’s exposure to Pb, we recommend that attention be focused on primary prevention of lead-contaminated soils.”

The authors acknowledge funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program.