Mercury and Lead: The Fallacy of “Safe” Levels

A new study published in Environmental Research by a group of researchers in upstate New York underscores this point. Lead author Dr. Brooks Gump of Syracuse University and coauthors call attention to problems associated with low levels of background exposure to lead and mercury, at concentrations notably lower than those deemed “elevated” by federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The authors report on results from the Environmental Exposures and Child Health Outcomes (EECHO) study, an ongoing study involving African-American and white children (ages 9–11) in low- and middle-income urban neighborhoods. Although the EECHO study’s primary purpose is to investigate the influence of environmental toxicant exposures on cardiovascular risk indices, the Environmental Research paper focuses on interesting associations between environmental toxicants and neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Study Description

The sample included 203 children (53% male, 57% African-American). Over half (53%) of the families had incomes of less than $35,000 per year. The study measured:

Blood levels of lead and total mercury
Hostility (administered to participants)
Other disruptive behaviors (administered to parents), including oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) behaviors and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) behaviors
Emotion regulation (participants)
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms (parents)

via Mercury and Lead: The Fallacy of “Safe” Levels • World Mercury Project