Children Exposed to Lead At Risk for School Discipline Problems: Study

Children with high levels of lead exposure may be substantially more likely to experience behavioral problems at school, according to the findings of new research that raises further concerns about the long-term effects of lead.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies announced their findings in a press release issued last week, indicating that children exposed to lead may be three times more likely to be suspended from school for discipline problems.

At first the researchers believed that the difference was due to race, with African-American students three times more likely to be suspended than white students. However, when they looked closer they found that much of that difference appeared to be due to lead exposure and lead poisoning, not race.

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The research team looked at 4th graders in Wisconsin and found the same discipline gap. However they also found that 23% of the difference in suspensions appeared to be linked to the rate of lead exposure. Because many African-American children live in older multifamily dwellings in urban areas, where lead paint problems are often concentrated, they have a higher risk of lead exposure.

“We knew that lead exposure decreases children’s abilities to control their attention and behavior, but we were still surprised that exposed children were so much more likely to be suspended,” said Sheryl Magzamen, one of the researchers on the study and an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Lead paint exposure has been linked to developmental problems in children and may even lower IQ. Other side effects of lead poisoning can include injury to the nervous system, seizures, growth or mental retardation, coma and death.

One of the most common causes of lead poisoning in the United States is lead based paint, which was banned in this country in 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage it posed, especially among children.

Lead paint is still found in many old homes and in public housing in many urban areas. Approximately half a million children have blood lead levels between 1 and 5 mcg/dl, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers unsafe.


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