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Pollutants Threaten Poor Minority Kids

Their families are more likely to live near lead, pesticides, study finds

WEDNESDAY, March 22, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Environmental toxins that harm a child's brain development and other aspects of health are much more likely to affect poor or minority kids than youngsters from white or more affluent families, a U.S. study shows.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, also believe that local, state and federal policies aren't doing enough to correct these inequities.

The findings appear in the March/April issue of Child Development.

All children are at risk of harm from exposure to toxic pollutants. But children living in poverty, especially black children and the children of migrant farm workers, are at significantly greater risk, the Wisconsin team said.

For example, even though overall rates of childhood exposure to lead continue to fall in the United States, black children living in poverty continue to be at much greater risk of high lead exposure than white children. Childhood lead exposure is associated with lower IQ scores, higher levels of restlessness, inattention and aggression -- all factors that can affect cognitive ability and school performance.

"Lead exposure gives these children an unfair start in life in addition to placing additional burdens on schools serving disadvantaged populations," study author Janean E. Dilworth-Bart, an assistant professor of human development and family studies, said in a prepared statement.

Despite the threat, enforcement of lead-abatement policies varies widely by state.

The study also noted that children of migrant farm workers who live close to farm fields have much higher rates of exposure to pesticides than other children.

"Many pesticides have the potential to disrupt brain development because they are neurotoxins," Dilworth-Bart said.

"The federal Worker Protection Standards (WPS) are intended to reduce the exposure of farm workers to pesticides while at work and, indirectly, reduce the pesticides they track home to their children," she said. "However, research shows poor compliance with the WPS -- work settings sometimes lack fundamentals such as soap, water and towels for proper hand washing."

Dilworth-Bart and her colleagues noted that social inequities also exist for exposure to other pollutants, such as industrial waste and PCBs, methylmercury from fish, and noise and air pollution.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about children and the environment.

SOURCE: The Society for Research in Child Development, news release, March 22, 2006
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