Posted on October 4, 2016 · Posted in Brain Injury

I recently saw an editorial from Lena Taylor, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Senate, representing the 4th District since 2005, in the Milwaukee Courier about lead poisoning in children.

lead poisoning

In Milwaukee, there are about 70,000 lead lateral pipes, and there is an infant mortality rate that’s approximately 33 percent higher than the national average. “It’s reasonable to wonder if our lead pipes have been killing our children,” Lena Taylor writes. (Flickr / Creative Commons / Keoni Cabral)

September was Infant Mortality Awareness Month, and she noted that black infants die at nearly three times the rate of white infants. And in addition to birth defects, premature birth, complications of pregnancy and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, she cited lead poisoning as a leading cause of death in infants.

The editorial touches on the fact that people exposed to lead are more likely to engage in criminal behavior. “Those who survive childhood lead poisoning can develop brain damage or impulse control problems that may lead to incarceration,” Taylor writes.

In addition, infants and children are more susceptible to lead poisoning because their brains are still developing. Lead, even at low levels, can present a serious risk to the health of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spine, of children and infants. Lead poisoning has been shown to negatively impact early education, grade school performance, and carries over to young adulthood.

The New England Journal of Medicine published this statement about lead: “The persistence toxicity of lead was seen to result in significant and serious impairment of academic success, specifically a seven fold increase in failure to graduate from high school, lower class standing, greater absenteeism, impairment of reading skills sufficiently extensive to be labeled reading disability (indicated by scores two grades below the expected scores), and deficits in vocabulary, fine motor skills, reaction time and hand-eye coordination.”

The sources of lead poisoning can be lead paint (in old homes with paint dating back to 1978), which is the leading concern for lead poisoning; lead in the soil, which can be poisoned by vehicle exhaust, lead paint, and trash that can include batteries and jewelry; and lead pipes that transport drinking water, a more recent concern. Remember that even low levels of lead can be detrimental to children and infants.

We recently wrote a blog about the East Chicago community that had lead in their soil: While the Environmental Protection Agency identified hotspots in 2008, the community was only recently notified of the lead poisoning in their soil. Before that, there were children that were playing in the soil, and now parents have to explain to their kids why they can’t play outside anymore.

Taylor wrote in her editorial that more than half of Lincoln Hills, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections facility is filled with Milwaukee, WI youth. There could be a correlation between the lead water pipes in Milwaukee and the youth juvenile detention rate. The editorial also touches on the possible correlation between lead water pipes and the infant mortality rate. “With about 70,000 lead lateral pipes and an infant mortality rate that’s approximately 33 percent higher than the national average, it’s reasonable to wonder if our lead pipes have been killing our children,” Taylor writes.

In 2014, the editorial cites a study that says 8.6 percent of tested Milwaukee children had unsafe levels of lead in the blood. More than half of the kids in Milwaukee were not tested, so we don’t know for sure if this is representative of the population. Although builders stopped using lead pipes decades ago, older homes still have lead pipes carrying water into them. The message of Taylor’s editorial was that “we must attack lead from all sources, including water and soil. Failing to act is not an option.” Hopefully this doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447