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July 17, 1991

Preventive Medicine's Latest Goal: Getting Lead Out to Protect Children

JAMA. 1991;266(3):315-319. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470030013002

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ALTHOUGH GETTING the lead out could be the government's response to budget cuts, for some federal agencies it's the rallying cry for a new initiative to preserve children's health.

Lead is a useful metal; it is used in car batteries and radiation shielding devices, for example. But inappropriate exposure in children can result in a host of toxic effects, from intellectual and developmental delays at low doses to decreased stature, anemia, and even death at high doses.

Lead is also ubiquitous. Although banning leaded gasoline in the late 1970s removed a major source, lead remains in soil, water, air, and food. Most importantly, it remains in the paint of older homes, an estimated 57 million built before 1980.

Now in Third Year  The government's initiative to prevent childhood lead poisoning began in 1989 and is backed up by a fivefold increase in funding (to $33 million). The first agency