Study of ‘downstream’ effects of childhood lead poisoning reveals racial, economic disparities in adulthood

20-year study involving more than 10,000 children tracks consequences of lead exposure from birth through early adulthood

A new study from Case Western Reserve University, funded in part by the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, shows that numerous negative issues associated with lead poisoning follow children well into adulthood—building on evidence linking elevated blood-lead levels with a host of harmful outcomes in education, behavior and health.

These so-called “downstream” consequences include increased involvement in the juvenile justice system, adult incarceration and homelessness, according to the study conducted by researchers at the university’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

The findings stem from a research project that—using data over a 20-year period—tracked the life outcomes of more than 10,000 children in Cleveland with elevated blood-lead levels, compared to a control group of students who did not have elevated lead levels. By comparing these carefully matched groups, researchers were able to zero-in on the impact of lead poisoning on both people and public systems.

“The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition believes that no child should ever be lead-poisoned,” said Blaine Griffin, City of Cleveland Councilman and Coalition Steering Committee Member. “This research from Case Western Reserve University underscores the painful reality that lead poisoning not only affects a child’s developing body and robs them of their potential but has a costly impact on our entire community. It doesn’t matter where you live or work—whether you’re a landlord, caregiver, elected official, or resident—we all have a responsibility to address lead poisoning together.”

The full press release can be accessed here (PDF).

Image of Lead Safe Cleveland press release

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