By Peter Montague
Sat Aug 4, 2007 17:15


[Rachel's introduction: The government and the media give the impression that the problem of toxic lead has largely been solved. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Millions of children are still having their IQs reduced by exposure to lead.]

By Peter Montague

In a front-page story June 22, the New York Times reported that a first-born child typically has a 3-point IQ advantage over any brothers or sisters born later.[1] The editors of the Times considered this information so important that they featured it in a second news story,[2] an op-ed commentary,[3] and four letters to the editor.[4]

Here is how the Times initially described the importance of a 3-point IQ advantage:

"Three points on an I.Q. test may not sound like much. But experts say it can be a tipping point for some people -- the difference between a high B average and a low A, for instance. That, in turn, can have a cumulative effect that could mean the difference between admission to an elite private liberal-arts college and a less exclusive public one."[1]

The Times did not mention it, but for some children the loss of 3 IQ points could mean the difference between a high D average and a low C, with a cumulative effect that could mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out.

In other words, a 3-point loss of IQ may be crucially important in every child's life, not just those headed for the Ivy League.

The U.S. Department of Labor says 19 million jobs will be created in the next decade and 12 million of them (63%) will require education beyond high-school.[5] As the globalized economy puts U.S. workers under greater competitive pressure, workers are expected to survive by retraining themselves 2 or 3 times during their working years. In this new world, every IQ point takes on new importance.

Unfortunately, the loss of 4 to 7 IQ points is far more widespread among U.S. children than anyone has so far reported, except in obscure medical journals.

One of the main causes of widespread loss of IQ is the toxic metal, lead, which is a potent neurotoxin. This soft gray metal was widely used in paint, in leaded gasoline, in sealing "tin" cans, and in water pipes throughout most of the 20th century, and the residuals are still taking a toll today in the form of peeling paint, toxic house-dust in older homes, contaminated soil, and a measurable body burden in almost all our children.

The most common units of measurement for lead in blood are micrograms per deciLiter of blood (ug/dL). A microgram is a millionth of a gram and there are 28 grams in an ounce. A deciLiter is a tenth of a liter and a liter is roughly a quart.[6]

As lead in your blood goes up, your IQ goes down. And paradoxically the first few micrograms of lead are the most damaging.

As a child's lead rises from less than 1 ug/dL up to 10, he or she loses an average of 7 IQ points.[7,8,9,10] If lead continues rising from 10 to 20, another 2 IQ points get shaved off. The first 5 ug/dL reduce a child's IQ by about 4 points.[7,8,9,10]

According to the latest available data, 26 percent of all children in the U.S. between the ages of 1 and 5 have 5 to 10 micrograms of toxic lead in each deciLiter of blood[11] -- which corresponds to a loss of 4 to 7 IQ points.[7,8,9,10] The estimate of lead in blood was published in December 2003, covering the period 1988-1994. Average levels today are probably somewhat lower because the trend for lead in children's blood is downward.

Unfortunately this 26% average for all U.S. children masks a disproportionate effect among non-whites, who tend to live in families with low income and in older homes that may have peeling paint containing toxic lead.

In the 2003 report, nearly half (47%) of non-Hispanic Black children ages 1 to 5 had blood lead levels in the range of 5 to 10 ug/dL, which corresponds to a loss of 4 to 7 IQ points. Nineteen percent of white children and 28% of Hispanic children fell in the same range.[11]

This means that exposure to toxic lead is still a huge problem in the U.S., robbing more than a million children each year of the intellectual potential they were born with.[12]

Unfortunately, there is widespread misunderstanding (and muddled reporting in the media) about this problem, due in no small part to confusing and contradictory policies set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). State governments by and large just go along.

Main Page - Thursday, 08/09/07

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