Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Lead Catalyst Seminar: Low-Level Lead Exposures in Children

Date and Time
Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.


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Lead exposure, even at levels previously thought to be safe or innocuous, poses serious risks and continues to be a public health problem. Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through the 1990s, regulations to end the use of lead in gasoline, residential lead paint, plumbing, and even food packaging were enacted. Yet despite significant decreases in US children’s blood lead concentrations in the decades since, no safe blood lead level was found in children. Too many children are still being exposed to lead at levels that are associated with cognitive impairment and behavior issues. Much of this exposure happens at home, particular in older homes in poor repair or undergoing renovation. Current practices to prevent childhood lead exposure do not go far enough. New strategies to eliminate lead hazards are urgently needed. The COVID-19 pandemic, which requires many children to stay home even more, elevates the importance of residential lead hazards. Moreover, new evidence shows that low-level lead exposure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease in adults. Dr. Bruce Lanphear will offer an overview of what is known about the health outcomes of low-level lead exposure, with an emphasis on interventions and policies to prevent this important public health problem.

This talk is occurring as part of a new project on “Understanding and Controlling Urban Soil Lead Contamination and Its Impact on Public Health” supported by the Nicholas Institute’s Catalyst Program. The Catalyst Program aims build on the Nicholas Institute’s mission by increasing engagement with Duke faculty to incubate and advance new partnerships, enhance policy-relevant knowledge, and create innovative policy solutions based on new creative synergies.


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Dr. Bruce Lanphear has studied the impact of toxic chemicals, such as lead, fluoride and air pollutants, on childhood health, for over 25 years. He has extensive experience conducting community-based trials, including RCTs of lead poisoning prevention and air pollution. He is a Professor in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia.