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Your Environment. Your Health.

Lead Exposure in African-Americans Begins Before Birth

Manish Arora, Ph.D., Andrea E Cassidy-Bushrow, Ph.D.
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Henry Ford Health System
DP2ES025453, R21ES022321, R00ES019597

Results from a new NIEHS-supported study revealed that African-American children may experience higher prenatal and early childhood lead levels than white children. The results suggest that testing women for lead during or before pregnancy may help identify risk of lead exposure to their children, particularly for African-American women.

The study included pregnant women living in and around Detroit, Michigan who were recruited into the Wayne County Health, Environment, Allergy, and Asthma Longitudinal Study birth cohort. The researchers analyzed baby teeth from the study participants’ children born between September 2003 and December 2007. High-resolution mapping of the growth rings in baby teeth can reveal the intensity and timing of exposure during different developmental periods. The study included exposure data from the baby teeth of 122 children, 71 of whom were African-American and 51 of whom were white.

The researchers found that African-American children experienced 2.2 times higher lead levels in the second and third trimesters and 1.9 times higher lead levels during their first year of life compared to white children.

African-American children have the highest occurrence of elevated blood lead levels in the U.S. Based on the new findings, the researchers conclude that this disproportionate burden of lead exposure begins in the womb and persists into early childhood.

Citation: Cassidy-Bushrow AE, Sitarik AR, Havstad S, Park SK, Bielak LF, Austin C, Johnson CC, Arora M. 2017. Burden of higher lead exposure in African-Americans starts in utero and persists into childhood. Environ Int 108:221-227.