The Prevalence of Lead in African-American Children

Four years ago, contaminated water supplies in Flint, Michigan exposed more than 100,000 residents to dangerous levels of lead.  Most were African-American and many were children.

I have blogged about the effects of lead poisoning and its elevated risks for children.

Demographically, African-American children have the highest prevalence of elevated blood lead levels in the U.S.  This is attributed to poorer housing conditions (including dust and paint) in many black children’s homes. (AJPH)

Now, a recent study shows that this disparity begins even before birth.

Researchers in Detroit, Michigan, examined pregnant women then followed their offspring after birth  The study found that African-American children had 2.2 times higher lead levels while still in the womb (second and third trimesters), and 1.9 times higher lead levels during their first year after birth, compared to white children.

Additionally, the study found that African-American children had lower tooth-manganese levels during the third trimester and postnatally.  Manganese is an essential nutrient that modifies the neurotoxic effects of lead.

In other words, “The disproportionate burden of lead exposure is vertically transmitted (i.e., mother-to-child) to African-American children before they are born and persists into early childhood.”

The researchers used an Agilent ICP-MS to measure metals in teeth donated by participants.

“Our results suggest that testing women for lead during pregnancy (or in pre-conception planning), may be needed to identify the risk to their future offspring,” the researchers conclude, “particularly for African-American women.”

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