Maternal bone lead levels pose toxic prenatal risk

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Fetal exposure, not just childhood environment, associated with infant mental impairment

Although much attention has been paid to public health efforts to reduce lead exposure in children between the ages of six months and five years, when environmental lead exposures (such as from leaded paint in old houses) tend to be greatest, less attention has been paid to understanding the transfer of lead from mother to fetus and its resulting health effects. Now, Harvard researchers have concluded that elevated maternal bone lead levels are linked to impaired cognitive development in infants. Given the lengthy amount of time lead can reside in maternal bone and that bone is demineralized into the blood during pregnancy, the findings highlight a potentially significant public health problem, linking the history of a mother’s lead exposure to risk for the next generation. The study appeared in the July 2002 issue of the journal Pediatrics. Howard Hu, principal investigator of the study, is associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. The study was supported by grants from the March of Dimes, National Institute of Environmental Health and Safety, US and Consejo National de Cienca y Technologia and CONSERVA, Department of Federal District, Mexico.