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Study led by Wayne State researcher shows airborne dust in urban areas is primary culprit in rise and fall of lead levels in children

February 27, 2013

DETROIT – A team of researchers led by Shawn P. McElmurry, Ph.D., P.E., assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in Wayne State University’s College of Engineering, has confirmed that seasonal fluctuations in blood lead levels found in children in urban areas throughout the United States and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere are the result of resuspended dust contaminated with lead.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology was based on nine years of data on more than 367,000 children in Detroit. The team of scientists stated the results support the critical need for controls for lead exposure in children.

“The study aimed to address a critical gap in understanding why child blood lead levels vary seasonally,” said McElmurry. “What we have done is demonstrate that increased blood lead levels in the summer are connected to increased amounts of soil and dust contaminated with lead. This soil is resuspended into the air to a greater extent during the summer than during the winter, hence showing decreased lead levels in children during the winter months.”

According to McElmurry, the results of this study place a greater importance on soil contaminated with lead and the need to come up with better remediation to improve children's health.

“Our findings suggest that more attention should be focused on the resuspension of soil contaminated with lead,” said McElmurry. “Current efforts focused on lead-based paint have generally been ineffective in reducing the average child’s exposure to lead, and our research team recommends primary attention be given to preventing lead exposure from lead-contaminated soil.”

This study was part of an international collaboration that included Sammy Zahran, Colorado State University; Mark Laidlaw and Mark Taylor, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; and Gabriel Filippelli, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program.


The full report can be found at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es303854c.

 

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.