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RESEARCH LOOKS AT LEAD'S EFFECT ON CHILDHOOD BEHAVIOR.

Byline: Jacqueline Stenson Medical Tribune News Service

Exposure to lead can contribute to delinquent behavior in children, a new report has found.

In a four-year study of 300 first-grade boys enrolled in Pittsburgh public schools, reports from teachers, parents and the children themselves showed that boys with the highest levels of lead in their bones were more likely to have behavior problems such as aggression, anxiety, depression and attention disorders.

Previous studies have linked high lead levels in the body with lower IQ scores and increased rates of reading disabilities and academic failure. But the connection between lead exposure and delinquent behavior had never been well-documented, said lead study author Dr. Herbert L. Needleman, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"There have been clues that lead affects social behavior," Needleman said, adding that most doctors probably have observed a link between lead exposure and behavior problems in children. "This is no secret, but all the studies done to date looked at cognition and intelligence."

The results of the new study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, most likely apply to girls as well as boys, Needleman said.

Antisocial behavior in childhood can lead to violent behavior as an adult, according to Terrie E. Moffitt of the department of psychology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. Thus, "links between behavior problems and lead exposure warrant careful attention," Moffitt said.

In the study, the researchers measured bone-lead levels because lead stays in bone longer than in blood, making this measure a more accurate indicator of the children's total lead exposure, Needleman said.

All of the boys also were tested to see whether their blood-lead levels met federal safety standards - under 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood. None of the boys had blood-lead levels deemed unsafe by this measure, he said.

But this standard may be archaic, given that the results of this study and others have found that lead levels considered safe under the federal standard still can have toxic effects, Needleman said.

The most common source of lead exposure today is flaked and chipped paint in old houses, which children have been known to eat. Lead from gasoline also can be present in dirt, where it is difficult to get rid of, as well as in lead pipes, said Dr. Jim Hendrick, a retired pediatrician in Jackson, Miss., and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Environmental Health.

While the incidence of lead poisoning has dropped substantially in recent years due to the elimination of lead in gasoline and paint, it still is a serious threat, Hendrick said. "Some doctors have seen many cases of lead poisoning in their practices," he said.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Feb 12, 1996
Words:464
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