Press Releases

2001 Releases

Strict enforcement of lead-exposure-prevention policies shows clear benefits

For immediate release: March 30, 2001

Boston, MA – Children who live in communities that strictly enforce lead poisoning prevention regulations are less likely to be lead poisoned than children in similar communities where enforcement is lax. Additionally, even homes that already have one child with lead poisoning are less likely to see a second child affected if enforcement is strict. These findings, by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, will appear in the April 1 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (http://www.apha.org/journal/AJPH2.htm).

Exposure to lead is ascertained through blood tests, and lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter in the blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set a “level of concern” at 10 micrograms per deciliter. Even at low levels, lead poisoning in children can cause IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity and other behavior problems.

The study spanned five years, 1993-1998, and examined 137 households in adjacent areas in two northeastern US states where a child with lead poisoning lived in 1992. Enforcement of lead poisoning prevention laws differed significantly in the two communities. In one area, property owners who failed to reduce lead hazards and notify tenants about lead inspection results were subject to civil and criminal charges. In the second neighborhood, lead inspections were limited and rarely resulted in control of lead poisoning dangers, and civil or criminal charges were not filed against property owners for failure to notify tenants of lead hazards.

Households in the communities where lead prevention policies were not strictly enforced were 4.6 times more likely to have at least one subsequent child with elevated blood lead levels (10 micrograms) when compared to the areas with strict enforcement and 6.6 times more likely to have at least one child with lead poisoning (25 micrograms).

Lead author Mary Jean Brown, an assistant professor in the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Maternal and Child Health said, “Exposure to lead can seriously harm young children. This study, the first of its kind, shows that strict enforcement of policies that reduce lead exposure protects children from the dangers of lead poisoning and helps break the cycle of repeated exposure in homes where lead poisoning had been reported."

The study, “The Effectiveness of Housing Policies to Reduce Children’s Lead Exposure,” was conducted by Mary Jean Brown, Jane Gardner, Katherine Swartz and Howard Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health, James D. Sargent of the Dartmouth Medical School and Ralph Timperi of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the State Laboratory Institute.