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Lincoln County, Mo. - Lead is one of the ten chemicals the WHO has identified as a major public health concern, and exposure to it drastically impacts Missourians, according to a new study. 

The study shows that despite successful efforts to reduce lead in society, lead exposure persists and affects new generations of children in the United States and Mo. 

A study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital and Quest Diagnostics cited 82% of Missouri’s children as having detectable lead in their blood, which is any measurement greater than one or equal to one microgram per deciliter (≥1.0µg/dL). Additionally, 4.5% of the children studied in the state reported having an elevated blood lead level (≥5.0µg/dL). The higher the blood lead level (BLL), the greater the problem and the more visible the symptoms and long-term effects are. 

The study, released Sept. 27 of this year, shows that more than half of American children have detectable BLLs. The children with the highest BLLs live in impoverished areas, post-industrial areas and areas with buildings built before the 1980s. There are also cited racial disparities with BLLs in children, with Black children suffering more than other races. Elevated BLLs in children also correlates with their residence in the Rust Belt. The Rust Belt is an often-contested region in the U.S. that was once dominated by the manufacturing industry in the past but now suffers from abandoned factories and population loss.

Exposure to lead can cause brain and nervous system damage, which can alter a child’s growth, behavior and physical wellness. Low-income, high-poverty areas have higher lead concentration levels in their communities, but Mo. children have more lead in their blood than most states’ children across the board.

Lead in bone is released into the blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to a developing fetus. Since lead can cross a placental barrier, it makes lead exposure a transgenerational issue. This factor plays a contributing role to the BLLs in today’s generation of children.

A person exposed to lead, even small amounts, may experience depression, antisocial behaviors, forgetfulness, irritation, nausea, abdominal pain, constipation and attention issues. 

Individuals can undergo a blood lead test. Individuals with detectable or elevated BLLs are encouraged to take appropriate actions to reduce lead in the body. Appropriate actions can include dietary or lifestyle changes as well as medical procedures if doctors deem necessary.