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WEDNESDAY May 28, 2008 (foodconsumer.org) -- A study in this week's PLoS Medicine suggests that exposure to lead in early childhood may increase the risk of a person getting arrested for violent crimes in young adulthood.
Childhood exposure of lead, known to be toxic to the nervous system, has been identified as a risk factor for antisocial behavior in adulthood, according to a press release by Public Library Science.
The study led by Dr Kim Dietrich and colleagues at University of Cincinnati was meant to examine the association between lead exposure in the uterus and during early childhood and criminal arrests in early adulthood.
Previous studies found the link, but childhood exposure to lead was estimated based on direct measurement in adults or direct measurement in children who were not followed up into adulthood to see how they conducted their behaviors.
In the current study, the researchers recruited 376 newborns in poor areas of Cincinnati where houses with high levels of lead were more common than elsewhere.
Blood lead was measured during pregnancy and then regularly until the children reached 6.5 years. Children under 6 are considered vulnerable to lead poisoning.
For the study, the researchers checked local criminal justice records for each of the 250 children who finished final analysis to see how many times they got arrested between the age of 18 and the end of October, 2005.
Those who were exposed to increased blood lead levels before birth and during early childhood were more likely to get arrested for any reason and for violent crimes, the study found.
For every 5ug/dl increase in blood lead levels at the age of six years, the risk of being arrested for a violent crime as a young adult increased by nearly 50 percent.
There are some limitations in the study, the researchers cautioned. The study did not cover all criminal behavior because most criminal behavior did not lead to arrest and also did not consider the effect of the individuals' IQ.
Still, Dr. Dietrich and colleagues say in their report that the findings "implicate early exposure to lead as a risk factor for behaviors leading to criminal arrest." The impact of lead exposure may be particularly greater for inner-city children because in inner-city neighborhoods, older houses still have lead paint on the wall and windowsills.
Below are the tips offered by the CDC as to how to avoid lead exposure.
Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.
The goal is to prevent lead exposure to children before they are harmed. There are many ways parents can reduce a child’s exposure to lead. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead. Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be identified and controlled or removed safely.
Lead-based paint is the major source of exposure for lead in U.S. children. All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. However, it is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem. You should determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where the child may spend a large amount of time (e.g., grandparents or daycare). In housing built before 1978, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise.
* Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
* Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
* Pregnant women and children should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. They should not participate in activities that disturb old paint or in cleaning up paint debris after work is completed.
* Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources. Until environmental clean-up is completed, parents should clean and isolate all sources of lead. They should close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls. You can also apply temporary barriers such as contact paper or duct tape, to cover holes in walls or to block children’s access to other sources of lead.
* Regularly wash children’s hands and toys. Hands and toys can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil. Both are known lead sources.
* Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components. Because household dust is a major source of lead, parents should wet-mop floors and wet-wipe horizontal surfaces every 2-3 weeks. Windowsills and wells can contain high levels of leaded dust. They should be kept clean. If feasible, windows should be shut to prevent abrasion of painted surfaces or opened from the top sash.
* Prevent children from playing in bare soil; if possible, provide them with sandboxes. Parents should plant grass on areas of bare soil or cover the soil with grass seed, mulch, or wood chips, if possible. Until the bare soil is covered, parents should move play areas away from bare soil and away from the sides of the house. If using a sandbox, parents should also cover the box when not in use to prevent cats from using it as a litter box. That will help protect children from exposure to animal waste.
To further reduce a child’s exposure from non-residential paint sources:
* avoid using traditional home remedies and cosmetics that may contain lead;
* avoid eating candies imported from Mexico;
* avoid using containers, cookware, or tableware to store or cook foods or liquids that are not shown to be lead free;
* remove recalled toys and toy jewelry immediately from children. Check Lead Recalls lists.
* use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making baby formula (Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead. Most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply.);
* shower and change clothes after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products such as stain glass work, bullet making, or using a firing range.
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