A new study has concluded that hundreds of young children in the District of Columbia experienced potentially damaging amounts of lead in their blood when lead levels were dramatically rising in the city’s tap water. In some high-risk neighborhoods, the number of toddlers and infants with blood-lead concentrations that can cause irreversible IQ loss and developmental delays more than doubled after harmful levels of lead began leaching into the city’s drinking water in 2001, according to the study’s findings. The peer-reviewed study will be published in Environmental Science and Technology, a journal on advances in chemical and environmental research.
Authors of the study, at Virginia Tech and Children’s National Medical Center, said their findings raise concern about the 42,000 children in the District, now ages 4 to 9, who were in the womb or younger than 2 during the water crisis. The report says those children might be at risk of future health and behavioral problems linked to lead. The study, based on a detailed analysis of thousands of children’s blood tests from 2000 to 2003, contradicts the public assurances issued by federal and District health officials starting in 2004. Although officials acknowledged at the time that the amount of lead in city water were at record-breaking levels, they have said repeatedly that they found no measurable impact on the general public’s health.
The researchers in the report, based on a subset of tests reviewed by the CDC, identified hundreds of specific children whose blood lead rose to harmful levels during the city’s lead crisis and generally fell when the water lead levels fell. The correlation of timing and geography, several experts not involved in the study said, increases the likelihood that leaded water contributed to the changes in blood readings. Co-author Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer and MacArthur scholar, had this to say:
There is no doubt that many children in this city were profoundly impacted by the years of completely unnecessary exposure to high lead in the District’s water. We hope this study will stop future harm and address the misrepresentations and false statements about what really happened.
Experts agree that children younger than 2 and fetuses are the most vulnerable to permanent damage from lead. That’s because their brains are still developing and also because they tend to both ingest and absorb much more of the toxic metal than do adults or older children, based on their body weight. Federal health officials have long viewed lead paint as the most dominant source of lead poisoning for children. But because the District’s tap water had the highest lead readings ever measured in the nation, many experts have become increasingly concerned. Study co-author Dr. Dana Best, a Children’s National Medical Center pediatrician and epidemiological researcher, stated:
I was surprised by how high the blood-lead levels were. And by the time there are measurable levels, the damage has been done. We cannot continue to use children as the canaries in the coal mine. We have to stop testing children to determine what danger is in the environment and start testing the environment to make sure children don’t get harmed.
I suspect the debate over this issue will continue. The lead problem as it relates to small children should be of great concern. Hopefully, this most recent study will result in more serious attention being focused on the problem.
Source: Washington Post
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