When I was a kid, there was lead in paint and gasoline (which could explain a lot...). Thankfully, both uses were stopped in 1978 and 1996, respectively. As a result, blood lead levels (the way human contamination is measured) have dropped dramatically, and American kids today are far less likely to be exposed to the toxic metal.
But old paint lasts - and is a real problem in dilapidated, pre-1978 housing where dust is contaminated, old paint chips find their way into baby and toddler mouths, and rehab work must be done v-e-r-y carefully. There are other sources of personal lead pollution, including glazed pottery, artificial turf (!), and some tap water pipes (you can - and should - get your water tested).
As a result of these ongoing exposures, (primarily low-income) kids still get lead in their bodies. And even at low levels, a new peer-reviewed study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found kidney damage in teenagers that they warn could lead to kidney disease later in life.
High-level lead exposure is a known risk for kidney disease. This study's authors sought to better understand the effects of low-level exposures, and found evidence that kids with blood lead levels (aka "BLLs") as low as 2.9 micrograms - 7.1 below the federal "safe" limit - showed signs of damaged, slower-functioning kidneys. As the report authors concluded,
This finding contributes to the increasing epidemiologic evidence indicating an adverse effect of low-level environmental lead exposure.
As we've been saying here at EWG for years: low doses matter.
Take steps to reduce children's exposures
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some simple but important steps for preventing exposure to lead. If you have children in the house or work with them, preventing their exposure to lead is a very important step to promote their environmental health.
[Thanks to Flickr CC & Abby Lanes for the chipping paint]