Arnold Schwarzenegger: World leaders must ‘focus on pollution’
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Scientists have issued a dire warning as a recent study finds that lead exposure in the last century was responsible for shrinking the IQ scores of over half of Americans. According to the study, leaded gasoline could have stolen over 800 million cumulative IQ points since the 1940s. Lead is neurotoxic and can erode brain cells after it enters the body.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead’s ability to impair brain development and lower cognitive ability.
In the US in 1923, companies first began introducing lead to gasoline to help keep car engines healthy, a practice only banned in 1996.
The findings, from Aaron Reuben, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Duke University, suggest that people in the US who were born before 1996 may now be at greater risk for lead-related health problems, such as faster ageing of the brain.
However, researchers warn that anyone who was born before that time had “concerningly high” lead exposure levels as children.
People born at the peak of its use in the 1960s and 1970s may be the worst affected.
Mr Reuben said: “Lead is able to reach the bloodstream once it’s inhaled as dust, or ingested, or consumed in water.
“In the bloodstream, it’s able to pass into the brain through the blood-brain barrier, which is quite good at keeping a lot of toxicants and pathogens out of the brain, but not all of them.”
To understand the effects of lead on Americans today, the researchers used publicly available data on U.S. childhood blood-lead levels, leaded-gas use, and population statistics.
From this data, they estimated lead’s assault on American intelligence by calculating IQ points lost from leaded gas exposure as a proxy for its harmful impact on public health.
Michael McFarland, a co-author on this study said: “I frankly was shocked.
“And when I look at the numbers, I’m still shocked even though I’m prepared for it.”
The study found that as of 2015, more than 170 million Americans (more than half of the U.S. population) had clinically concerning levels of lead in their blood when they were children.
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This likely resulted in lower IQs and put them at higher risk for other long-term health impairments, such as reduced brain size, greater likelihood of mental illness, and increased cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
The study found that childhood lead exposure may have blunted America’s cumulative IQ score by an estimated 824 million points – nearly three points per person on average.
The researchers calculated that at its worst, people born in the mid-to-late 1960s may have lost up to six IQ points, and children registering the highest levels of lead in their blood, eight times the current minimum level to initiate clinical concern, fared even worse, potentially losing more than seven IQ points on average.
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