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Health, Nutrition & Fitness        < Previous


Lead Poisoning


Q. I would guess that a big factor for all the learning disabilities we're seeing among low-income children is the lead poisoning in those inner-city neighborhoods.


As many as one in 25 children may be affected by lead poisoning, especially those who live in older inner-city apartments and homes.


Before World War II, lead was frequently used in paint to make it last longer. It used to make up as much as 40% of paint by dry weight. Once the environmental dangers were discovered, the amount of lead permissible in paint dropped significantly. Paints that date from 1978 or sooner are OK. For the same reason, we've moved to unleaded gasoline, and quit burning batteries and doing other things that release lead into the atmosphere.


Lead easily gets into a young child's body when the child chews or sucks on something old and painted - windowsills, doors, even toys that have been contaminated with lead-containing dust. The damage ranges from a lower IQ to possible learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder / hyperactivity, and even violent tendencies.


Since young children's brains are developing at a rapid pace, the adulteration caused by lead poisoning can do significant and permanent damage. A child with the symptoms of anemia (black and sticky stools, rapid heart rate, jaundice, fatigue) should be checked out for lead poisoning, since the two often coincide.


Ironically, parents who realize this danger and attempt to remove the lead-based paint from their homes might be making matters worse if they strip, sand or burn off the paint, because that just releases the lead into the air again. That's why it's best to have a professional with experience in lead removal do jobs like that. Local governments are doing what they can in this regard.


Doctors recommend, as always, an excellent diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, calcium, and iron, because they help the child resist the lead contamination, and mitigate its ill effects somewhat. In a home with lead paint, they recommend daily wet-mopping floors, and using a soapy washcloth to wipe windowsills and other painted surfaces that children may come in contact with.


Ironically, though, it's not correct to blame lead poisoning for widespread low student achievement in inner-city public schools. That's because children from the same types of homes in the same neighborhoods who are enrolled in private schools or charter schools are doing much better on standardized tests than their public-school peers. This was revealed in spring 2008 in Arizona, where Mexican folk remedies for illnesses, and the pottery-making process, are suspected of contributing to the 250 cases of lead poisoning reported each year in Arizona, a state with 6 million people.


But two of Arizona's top-ranked charter schools are located in the zip codes with the highest concentration of the problem, and those charter schools have among the best test scores in the state. Also in an area deemed high risk for lead poisoning is the Millennium Worldwide Academy, famous for its students' ability to stump politicians, business leaders and other dignitaries in impromptu quiz contests with their superior knowledge base.


This paradox was raised by the Goldwater Institute,, in contending that lead poisoning should not be blamed for low student achievement, and calling for more educational freedom to allow disadvantaged children to have more school choice.



Homework: The Arizona School Boards Association has completed this helpful guide to lead poisoning, even if its conclusions are in question since low-income kids in private schools in the same lead-tinged neighborhoods are doing well. But still, lead poisoning and all environmental hazards are of concern:


By Susan Darst Williams Health 11 2008


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