The Consequences Of Lead Exposure For Kids Are Scary. Talking About It Doesn't Have To Be

Nov 29, 2018

There is no safe level of lead in the blood for kids. We know kids are exposed to lead through water, and lead paint in older homes and even in schools.

Elevated lead levels in blood have been linked to nervous system damage and lower IQ. Kara Holsopple talked with Dr. Carla Campbell from the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso about how to communicate the very real, and life-altering risks of lead exposure. Before teaching public health, she worked for years with children and families impacted by lead in Philadelphia.

Kara Holsopple: How can we talk about toxic environmental exposures without stigmatizing the people who have been affected?

Carla Campbell:  I saw many children in the lead poisoning clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. And when I spoke to parents, I would tell them that their children are at risk for developing a number of possible problems such as lower IQ or the behavioral or developmental problems. But that doesn’t mean that they definitively will get any of these problems. But there are risks, and that’s why we’re concerned.

The other side of the coin is encouraging parents to give their children as stimulating an environment as possible. There have been some studies that have shown that children tend to do better even if they’ve been exposed to lead with that type of stimulating environment. So parents helping kids from an early age to have an environment where you’re talking to children, you’re giving them new information, you’re engaged with the children. Some of our families wouldn’t necessarily be doing that all the time without a little bit of coaching and encouraging.

KH: So being a little more giving that family is something proactive they can do.

CC: Yes. And you know I don’t think lead poisoning is a death sentence — so giving families hope that you’d like to figure out what the source of lead is and and reduce or prevent further exposure. But I think giving parents hope that these kids have plenty of potential is important. And we always said that in the lead clinic. I don’t think these parents really felt a stigma. What I saw was just a concern for doing the best under the circumstances.

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