Lead associated with lower secondary school performance

Lead exposure in children, even at very low concentrations, is detrimental to academic achievement through high school, according to a brand new Quebec study on the subject.

This research was conducted using data from the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec (ELDEQ), which measured the concentration of blood lead (called “blood lead”) in a cohort of 10-year-old children in 2008.

Their school career was then documented until the end of high school.

These data established that lead exposure is associated with increased inattention and hyperactivity, leading to poorer performance and school delays that can lead to school dropout.

“Lead affects behavior that affects academic achievement,” summarizes Gina Muckle, a professor in the School of Psychology at Laval University who oversaw this study.

The impact is documented even if the concentrations observed in almost all cases are well below the recommended threshold, adds Claudia-Béatrice Ratté, who carried out this research as part of her master’s degree at Université Laval.

“Even with very, very low lead concentrations, you still see an impact,” he says.

The average blood lead level of 10-year-olds was 1.1 micrograms per liter, well below the recommended 5 micrograms.

The most exposed children had levels of 7 micrograms, but the blood lead level of more than 95% of the youngsters was below the recommended threshold.

“What our data shows is that there is no safety threshold. From a prevention standpoint, if we are to put the odds on our side so that our children perform as well as possible, we need to remove as many sources of exposure in the environment as possible, ”says Ms Muckle.

Lead acts on the brain, particularly the nervous system, which is in full development in children. “This is what makes it a much more at risk population,” says Claudia-Béatrice Ratté.

More or less ahead now?

Although levels of lead in the environment have decreased since the 1990s, it is still unclear whether the level of lead exposure in children has actually decreased because the source of exposure has changed, explains the Laval University professor.

Now, it is mainly the pipes that carry water to homes, daycare centers and schools that are largely responsible for lead exposure in young people.

“These pipes are aging and the small lead particles are ending up in the water. This source of exposure has not diminished for children living in homes built before the 1990s, ”she says.

In the school network, water quality tests have been carried out in all schools in Quebec in recent years. All water points are expected to be compliant by the start of the next school year, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said this week. In some cases, however, students will still have to run the water before drinking it.

But it’s not just schools that have to worry about water quality, Muckle adds.

“If there is lead in the water system of an old school in Limoilou and the student lives in a house a few blocks away, it is the same water and the child is doubly exposed. This is not an issue that should simply be shredded over the course of the educational network, “she says, noting that it is still a” current public health problem “.

lead in the water

Maximum concentration acceptable

  • 5 micrograms per liter (federal standard adopted by Quebec)

Average concentration observed during the study

  • 1.1 micrograms per liter

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