The 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, raised national awareness of the effects of lead exposure on children. After municipal officials decided as a cost saving measure to switch the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River, residents immediately started complaining about the discolored and foul-smelling water. Nonetheless, it took scientists more than a year to get around to analyzing the water, at which point they discovered that it was heavily contaminated with lead and other heavy metals. The problem was swept under the rug for some time, and by the time government officials started doing something about it, thousands of children had already been exposed to dangerously high levels of lead.
While the crisis in Flint received national attention, it would be dangerous to assume that this was a once-off problem. In reality, studies have linked lead exposure to over 400,000 premature deaths each year. While lead poisoning levels are now considerably lower than they were at their peak in the 1980s, at least 1.2 million American children still have elevated levels of lead in their blood.
Years of research have confirmed that exposure to even low levels of lead can affect growth, intelligence and behavior in children. It has also been linked to coordination problems, learning disabilities and aggressive, violent behavior. Now, a study by researchers from Duke University, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, has revealed that childhood lead exposure can also have long-term effects on mental health and personality right into adulthood.
As reported by Science Daily, the recent study found that participants who had high blood lead levels at the age of 11 were more likely to struggle with mental illness later in life and to exhibit difficult personality traits by the time they turned 38. Risk of these problems increased exponentially the more lead they were exposed to during childhood. (Related: Lead exposure linked to emotional problems, anxiety and pervasive developmental problems in children.)
The 1,000 study participants were all born in Dunedin, New Zealand, between 1972 and 1973, back when New Zealand’s gasoline lead levels were among the highest in the world. Globally, gasoline was treated with high levels of lead between the 1960s and 1980s, meaning that most adults who are now in their 30s, 40s and 50s were exposed to lead when they were children.
Science Daily explained the study’s methodology:
Researchers measured blood lead levels — in micrograms per deciliter of blood (ug/dL) — when participants were 11 years old. Today, blood lead levels above 5 ug/dL will trigger additional clinical follow-up of a child. At age 11, 94 percent of participants in the Dunedin Study had blood lead levels above this cutoff. …
The Duke research team also assessed participant mental health and personality at various points throughout their lives, most recently at age 38. Diagnostic criteria or symptoms associated with eleven different psychiatric disorders … were used to calculate a single measure of mental health, called the psychopathology factor, or “p-factor” for short.
The higher an individual’s p-factor score, the greater the number and severity of psychiatric symptoms.
The team found that lead’s effects on mental health were as severe as other studies had previously found them to be on IQ. In addition, the researchers found that the families of children who experienced high levels of lead exposure described them as having difficult personalities, being more neurotic, less agreeable and less conscientious than other people.
With at least two decades’ worth of kids being continuously exposed to high levels of lead is it any wonder that the world is in the state it’s in? Could we now be witnessing a lead-poisoned society going insane?
Learn more about the true causes of mental health issues at Psychiatry.news.
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