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At high doses, lead has long been known to cause severe health problems -- muscle and abdominal pain, brain disease, paralysis and even death. In recent years, however, we have grown to appreciate the devastating effects of even low-level lead exposures early in life.

Although leaded paint and leaded gasoline have been phased out, lead remains in old paint, household dust, soil, pipe solder (from which it leaches into water) and some ceramics. Basic research financed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has shown the adverse effects on children's IQ and physical development of lead levels previously considered safe. Based on these and other findings, public health officials declared lead the #1 environmental hazard to American children and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered what is considered to be "acceptable" blood lead levels.

  • To meet this need, NIEHS is conducting a clinical trial to test Succimer in children whose blood lead concentrations are within this lower range. Inner-city hospitals are participating in this trial in Cincinnati, Ohio, Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, Pa., and Baltimore, Md. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Research on Minority Health also is helping to support this trial. The aim is to see if oral chelation reduces or prevents lead induced developmental problems. Eight hundred youngsters are now being followed.


  • Recent studies supported by NIEHS suggest that a young person's lead burden is not only linked to lower IQ and lower high school graduation rates but to increased delinquency.

  • Preliminary data from two other NIEHS studies indicate that lead stored in young women's bones during childhood can be returned to the blood during times of calcium need, such as pregnancy, and expose their fetuses.

NIEHS continues to perform and support research on lead's effects. The research is important because of the prevalence of lead in the environment and because lead may represent a model of how other environmental hazards can hurt the fetus or developing child and adolescent, even at relatively low levels of exposure.

Reprinted with Permission from:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
111 Alexander Drive
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

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