Residential Dust Control Fails To Reduce Blood Lead Levels In Children

April 05, 1999

CINCINNATI -- Dust control -- one of the cornerstones of preventing children's exposure to lead in the home -- is ineffective in reducing blood lead levels, according to a Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati study published in the April edition of Pediatrics.

"Despite parents' best cleaning efforts, they were not able to keep ahead of lead contamination in their homes," says Bruce Lanphear, M.D., M.P.H., a physician in Cincinnati Children's division of general and community pediatrics and the study's main author.

The study involved 275 urban children, beginning when they were 6 months old. Dust control advisors visited about half these families up to eight times over the next 18 months to recommend and encourage cleaning techniques to reduce dust lead levels. The advisors also provided cleaning equipment and supplies. Children's blood lead levels were measured at 6 months, one year, 18 months, and two years of age.

There was no significant difference in children's blood lead levels at any age between those who performed targeted dust control and those who did not. There also were no differences in the percent of children who had elevated blood lead levels

Lead toxicity, defined as a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or higher, is estimated to affect one of every 20 children in the United States. Studies have demonstrated harmful and persistent effects of low-level lead exposure on brain function, such as lowered intelligence and diminished school performance.

"Since the harm from lead persists, trying to fix the problem after the child has a high blood lead test is absurd," says Dr. Lanphear. "We need to expand our efforts to screen housing, identify lead hazards and repair them before a child is exposed. Lead poisoning occurs because housing is in substandard condition, not because families don't clean adequately. Federal residential lead standards also must be set low enough to adequately protect children."

During the last two decades, average blood lead levels in children in the United States have fallen more than 90 percent, due largely to the elimination of lead from gasoline and dietary sources. It's estimated that nearly 900,000 preschool children in the United States have a blood lead of 10 micrograms per deciliter or higher. In some cities, especially in the northeastern United States, more than one-third of preschool children have blood lead levels exceeding this benchmark.

Dr. Lanphear's study is the first to examine primary prevention of residential lead exposure in children. Dr. Lanphear is a nationally recognized expert on residential lead exposure. He recently published an article in the journal Science criticizing federal policy regarding lead exposure and children's health.
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Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

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