Low-level lead exposure, social class, and infant development

Neurotoxicology and Teratology
D BellingerM Rabinowitz


A prospective cohort study was conducted to assess the association between early development and low-level prenatal and postnatal lead exposure. Infants' performance between 6 and 24 months on the Mental Development Index of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development declined with increasing concentration of lead in blood, but the decline varied with children's age at exposure, level of exposure, and socioeconomic status. Within the second year of life, the performance of children in lower socioeconomic strata was adversely affected at lower levels of prenatal exposure (blood lead levels of 6 to 7 micrograms/dl) than was the performance of children in higher socioeconomic strata. However, even the performance of these advantaged infants was lower when cord blood lead level exceeded 10 micrograms/dl, well below the figure currently regarded as the maximum permissable level for young children. Exploratory analyses suggested that early postnatal blood lead levels between 10 and 25 micrograms/dl were also associated with lower Mental Development Index scores, but only among children in lower socioeconomic strata.


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