The Dangers of Lead Still Loom

Jamaica has had a 40% drop in its murder rate from 2009 to 2013.  There are many events that may have attributed to this drop: a major drug lord arrest; an emphasis on community police, violence reduction and combating corruption; and replacing leaded gasoline with unleaded.  Wait, unleaded gasoline?  That’s rightFrom 1990-2000, Jamaica started to phase out leaded gasoline, which leads some to believe that the beneficial impact of youth with lower levels of lead poisoning is just beginning.

Leaded gas which has been banned in the US since 1995, one of TIME’s 50 worst inventions, has been linked to headaches, joint pain, learning disabilities, seizures and much more. Researchers have argued that lead poisoning has also increased crime rates. For example, “Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s[1].” We are now beginning to see the downtick of the trend since leaded gas and paint has been banned.  Check out the graph below highlighting crime patterns vs. high lead levels.



So we should be good then?  No more lead, violent crime will continue to go down.  Not so fast.  Leaded paint can still be found on walls and leaded gas has seeped into soil.  There are ways to alleviate these issues and it’s vital that communities do so.

Lead in Soil:

  • Cover the dirt with sod or grass
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering the house to avoid tracking in lead dust from soil
  • Perform regular cleaning with a lead-specific detergent

Lead in Your Home (If your home was built before 1978[2]):

  • Wipe down flat surfaces, like window sills, with a damp paper towel and throw away the paper towel
  • Mop smooth floors (using a damp mop) weekly to control dust
  • Take off shoes when entering the house
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstery to remove dust
  • If possible, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a “higher efficiency” collection bag
  • Pick up loose paint chips carefully with a paper towel and discard in the trash, then wipe the surface clean with a wet paper towel
  • Take precautions to avoid creating lead dust when remodeling, renovating or maintaining your home
  • Test for lead hazards by a lead professional. (Have the soil tested too)

For your child:

  • Have your child’s blood lead level tested at age 1 and 2. Children from 3 to 6 years of age should have their blood tested, if they have not been tested before and:
  • They live in or regularly visit a house built before 1950,
  • They live in or regularly visit a house built before 1978 with on-going or recent renovations or remodeling
  • They have a sibling or playmate who has or did have lead poisoning
  • Frequently wash your child’s hands and toys to reduce contact with dust,
  • Use cold tap water for drinking and cooking
  • Avoid using home remedies (such as arzacon, greta, pay-loo-ah, or litargirio) and cosmetics (such as kohl or alkohl) that contain lead
  • Certain candies, such as tamarindo candy jam products from Mexico, may contain high levels of lead in the wrapper or stick. Be cautious when providing imported candies to children
  • Some tableware, particularly folk terra cotta plates and bowls from Latin America, may contain high levels of lead that can leach into food


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Stephanie Grocott

I am a skilled event planner and researcher. In my role as Project Specialist, I plan national conferences, manage virtual training events, conduct research, and work on development initiatives for projects such as the MLK Day of Service and Social Innovation Fund. Read more.

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