103 Lead & Child Development

Based on research by Needleman, et al., 1979, Bellinger, et al., 1987, and American Psychological Association, adapted by Juanita N Baker, Ph. D..

Lead is still hiding all around us — in lead-based paint, batteries, fishing weights, lead shot, and small plane aviation gas. Our blood and bones absorb this lead. In the 1970s, due to a research team with pediatricians and psychologists demonstrating how dangerous even a little lead exposure can be, lead gas was phased out. The team first tested how much lead was in first and second graders’ baby teeth with no symptoms of lead poisoning. The researchers then compared children with the highest and lowest lead levels on developmental tests, and teachers’ ratings of the children’s behavior. The researchers found that the high-lead children had lower IQs, less verbal competence, worse speech processing, and worse attention than the low-lead children.

Lead also affected the children’s behavior: teachers consistently judged the high-lead children to have more difficulty following directions, more hyperactivity, and lower overall functioning than the low-lead children. Research results clearly showed that even relatively small amounts of lead were associated with significant cognitive and behavioral problems.

In 2012, CDC again lowered the acceptable limit of lead in children due to continued research. In 2011, 6% of U.S. kids had excessive lead blood levels. Laws phasing out all lead use are needed.


Bienkowski, Brian. (2013) Environmental Health News: Lead Costs Developing Economies Nearly $1 Trillion Annually. Scientific American, Jun 26, 2013

Bellinger, D., Leviton, A., Waternaux, C., Needleman, H., & Rabinowitz, M. (1987). Longitudinal analyses of prenatal and postnatal lead exposure and early cognitive development. The New England Journal of Medicine, 316,  1037-1042.

Needleman, H. L., Gunnoe, C., Leviton, A., Reed, R., Peresie, H., Maher, C., & Barrett, P. (1979). Deficits in psychologic and classroom performance of children with elevated dentine lead levels.  The New England Journal of Medicine, 300,  689-695.

Needleman, H. L., & Gatsonis, C. A. (1990). Low-level lead exposure and the IQ of children. A meta-analysis of modern studies. Journal of the American Medical Association, 263, 673-678.

Needleman, H. L., Riess, J. A., Tobin, M. J., Biesecker, G. E., & Greenhouse, J. B. (1996). Bone lead levels and delinquent behavior. Journal of the American Medical Association, 275,  363-369.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Blood Lead Levels in Children Fact Sheet (PDF, 292KB)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Lead

Children’s Environmental Health Initiative

Environmental Protection Agency-Office of Children’s Health Protection-Concentrations of Lead in Blood

For more details see:


American Psychological Association, February 2014

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