If you’re like me, and your high school teen asks for help with math, you probably said to yourself or them “what the heck is that? I can’t help you- you’ll have to read the chapter”. The math work might seem harder today partly because today’s teens weren’t lead poisoned like my generation was (people in their late 40’s and 50’s).
In the late 1960’s it became clear that kids were being poisoned by lead in their environment, mostly from leaded gasoline, lead in paint, and lead solder in canned food. If you’re in your 40’s you probably remember the old “fill’er up with ethyl” commercials. They were talking about tetra-ethyl lead- which was used as an additive in gasoline to enhance performance. Lead in gas and the other sources dramatically increased the blood lead levels in kids during the late 1950s and early 1960s- resulting in negative health impacts including cognitive impairment.
Lead was phased of gas in the late 1960’s and 1970’s- and was removed from paint in 1978, but not before it cost our generation at least 5 IQ points (probably more). Kids in the 60’s had average blood levels of more than 25 micrograms per deciliter of blood (μg/dL) – a level that today is considered severe lead poisoning. In kids younger than 6 years old- the lead crosses the “blood-brain barrier” causing permanent cognitive impairment (after 6 years old the barrier is sealed and lead is less harmful because Pb can’t pass as readily into the brain). Fortunately, the public health interventions (removing Pb from gas, paint, and cans) worked and today 99.9% of Arizona kids have blood lead levels below the standard of 10 μg/dL.
The kids that we do find with lead poisoning (about 300 per year) seem to live in certain Zip Codes where the houses were built when lead based paint was still being used. Here’s our latest surveillance report with the information. Our Targeted Childhood Lead Poisoning Screening Plan provides a listing of Arizona’s high-risk ZIP Codes to help physicians decide which kids to test. We’re working on an update to the targeted screening plan- which should be available later this year. The major environmental lead sources in Arizona are lead based paint in older neighborhoods, families using lead containing pottery for cooking, and certain folk remedies called azarcon and greta.