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Downstream Effects of Childhood Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning in early childhood can altogether shift the trajectory of a person’s life

Numerous health, behavior & education issues are some of the harmful effects that follow children into adulthood, who as children had elevated lead blood-levels according to a new study from Case Western Reserve University.

Homelessness, incarceration, and increased juvenile justice involvement are some of the “downstream” consequences the study uncovered. The study tracked data over a 20-year period, tracking the lives of over 10,000 Cleveland children with elevated blood-levels compared to a control group.

“Lead poisoning in early childhood can altogether shift the trajectory of a person’s life at key stages of development and leave lasting long-term consequences,” said Claudia Coulton, the study’s co-author, a Distinguished University Professor and co-director of the Poverty Center at the Mandel School.

Some of the key findings about children with elevated blood-levels include:

  • 27% lower chance of being on track for kindergarten
  • 25-30% increased chance of entering juvenile justice system
  • 34% increased chance of being incarcerated as adults ages 18-23
  • More likely to have taken part in public assistance programs – Black students had higher rates of lead exposure than white students
  • Differences in proficiency tests, and a common theme were students repeating 3rd &/or 9th grade

Rob Fischer, an associate professor at the Mandel School and the studies co-author went on to say that “documenting the downstream consequences of lead poisoning can help society acknowledge and appreciate the costs of inaction—and to target resources where they are most needed.” And further more he went on to say, “when we consider the societal costs, the effects of lead grow cumulatively as people move through these various stages and are likely to persist beyond the early adult period covered in this study. Eliminating lead poisoning in children will go a long way in reducing these adverse events. It will also improve these children’s chances to succeed as adults.”

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