Low-level lead exposure and behavior in early childhood.

A. L. Mendelsohn, B. P. Dreyer, A. H. Fierman, C. M. Rosen, L. A. Legano, H. A. Kruger, S. W. Lim, C. D. Courtlandt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To assess whether small elevations in blood lead level were associated with measurable behavioral changes in a group of poor children between 1 and 3 years old. METHODS: The study population consisted of children presenting for routine well-child care to the pediatric clinic at Bellevue Hospital Center, a large urban public hospital. The following inclusion criteria were used for entry into the study: age 12 to 36 months; capillary lead screening result <1.21 micromol/L (25 microg/dL); no known prior history either of blood lead level >1.21 micromol/L (25 microg/dL) or lead exposure requiring chelation therapy; Latino or African-American; English or Spanish spoken in the home; biological mother as primary caretaker; child not presently attending day care; full-term, singleton gestation; birth weight at least 2500 g; no known neurologic or developmental disorder; and no severe chronic disease, including human immunodeficiency virus infection. Study enrollment was simultaneously stratified by capillary lead level and age. All children between 12 and 36 months attending the pediatric clinic during the study period received screening capillary blood measures of lead level following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics as part of routine primary care. During periods of enrollment, consecutive lead measurements performed in the pediatric clinic were reviewed by one of the researchers. For those children meeting entry criteria based on lead level and age, further eligibility based on the remainder of the inclusion criteria was determined through parental interview and review of the medical record. Lead exposure was assessed with a single capillary blood specimen, using atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Subjects were considered to be lead-exposed if their lead level was between 0.48 and 1.20 micromol/L (10 and 24.9 microg/dL) and nonexposed if their lead level was between 0 and 0.48 micromol/L (0 and 9.9 microg/dL). Behavior was assessed using the Behavior Rating Scale (BRS) of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, second edition. The BRS in this age group consists of three components: an Emotional Regulation Factor that measures hyperactive/distractible/easy-frustration behaviors; an Orientation-Engagement Factor that measures fear/withdrawal/disinterest behaviors; and a Motor Quality Factor that assesses the appropriateness of movement and tone. The BRS is scored as a percentile; lower scores reflect more problematic behaviors. Researchers performing the BRS were blinded to capillary lead results. Information was collected concerning factors that might confound the relationship between lead and behavior. Demographic factors were collected, including: child's age, gender, and country of origin; mother's age, marital status, parity, country of origin, and primary language spoken; parental education, and occupation and receipt of public assistance. Socioeconomic status was determined using the Hollingshead Two-Factor Index of Social Position. Maternal verbal IQ was assessed using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised. Maternal depression was assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale. Cognitive stimulation provided in the home was assessed using a new office-based instrument, the StimQ, which measures the quantity and quality of play materials and parent-toddler activities in the child's home. To assess the child for iron deficiency, we performed a hematocrit and mean corpuscular volume at the time of the capillary lead evaluation. A presumptive diagnosis of iron deficiency was made if the child was either anemic (defined as a hematocrit <32) or had a mean corpuscular volume <72. RESULTS: The study sample consisted of 72 children. Children in the lead-exposed group (n = 41) had a mean BRS behavior score that was 15.8 points lower than that of children in the nonexposed group (n = 31), which was significant by the Stu

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Low-level lead exposure and behavior in early childhood.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this