Childhood blood lead levels rise and fall with exposure to airborne dust in urban areas

(Medical Xpress)—A new nine-year study of more than 367,000 children in Detroit supports the idea that a mysterious seasonal fluctuation in blood lead levels—observed in urban areas throughout the United States and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere—results from resuspended dust contaminated with lead.

The scientists, who report in the journal &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 levels in the U.S. and globally have 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 international 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.

Much of the current lead in major is from those "legacy" contaminants. Modern human exposure takes the form of fine particles, deposited in the soil years ago, that are swept up into the air. Past research identified a seasonal trend in blood in children in multiple North American cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and Milwaukee. Those levels increase, often by more than 10 percent, in July, August and September. Blood lead levels then decrease during winter and spring.

The 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 implicates airborne dust as the reason for the seasonal trends in blood lead levels. It shows a correlation between atmospheric soil 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.

More information: The full text of the study is available at pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/p… bs/10.1021/es303854c.

Related Stories

Australia's inner cities still contaminated with lead

date Sep 28, 2010

A research article published this week in the international journal Environmental Pollution contends that large tracts of land in the older inner-city suburbs of Australia’s cities remain contaminated with above-acceptable levels ...

Children more vulnerable to harmful effects of lead

date May 04, 2008

Contrary to prevailing assumptions, children are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead exposure at the age of 6 than they are in early childhood, according to a Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study ...

Recommended for you

India's bidi workers suffer for 1,000-a-day habit

date 18 hours ago

Zainab Begum Alvi and her band of young helpers hunch over baskets filled with tobacco flakes and dried leaves, trying to roll a thousand dirt-cheap cigarettes a day at the behest of India's powerful bidi barons.

Key to better sex ed: Focus on gender & power

date Apr 17, 2015

A new analysis by Population Council researcher Nicole Haberland provides powerful evidence that sexuality and HIV education programs addressing gender and power in intimate relationships are far more likely ...

Journal tackles aging policy issues raised by White House

date Apr 17, 2015

In anticipation of the forthcoming 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA), The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) has produced a special issue of The Gerontologist that outlines a vision for older adults' econom ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.