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Study shows immigrant children are at increased risk of lead poisoning

Immigrant children are five times as likely as U.S-born children to suffer from lead poisoning in New York City, according to a new Health Department study, and the risk is highest among the most recent immigrants. The new study of children tested for lead poisoning in 2002, published online in the American Journal of Public Health this month, found that children who had lived abroad within the previous six months were 11 times as likely as U.S.-born children to have lead poisoning. The most affected children were from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico and Pakistan nations where lead may be less tightly regulated than in the United States. The study is the first to look at lead poisoning in New York Citys immigrant children. It is available at

Lead-based paint is the primary cause of lead poisoning for both U.S. and foreign-born children in New York City, but immigrant children may face additional lead threats in their home countries. Of the 800 lead poisoned children requiring home investigations in 2006, Health Department staff identified lead paint hazards in 80% of U.S. born cases but only 65% of foreign born cases. While it is not possible to document the exact sources of lead exposure for these immigrant children, other research has shown that pollution, foods, herbal medicines, dishes, toys, jewelry, and cosmetics are sources of lead in foreign countries.

"This study suggests that immigrant children are being exposed to lead in their home countries before they arrive in New York City," said Jessica Leighton, Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Health and co-author of the study. "And some immigrant families may be bringing tainted products with them to New York City. We encourage all parents, especially parents who are recent immigrants, to be sure their children are tested for lead poisoning at ages one and two, as required by law."

Leighton also urged health care providers to consider blood-lead testing when caring for foreign-born children of all ages. The Health Departments most current statistics show that while only 14% of the citys children were born outside the United States, 18% of lead poisoned children with lead levels requiring home investigation were foreign-born.

What parents can do to Protect their children from lead poisoning

  • Report peeling paint to your landlord. In New York City, landlords are required to fix peeling paint in homes where young children live.

  • Remind your doctor to test your child for lead poisoning at ages 1 and 2. Ask your doctor about testing older children who may be at risk for lead exposure, including exposures in other countries.

  • Wash floors, windowsills, hands, toys, and pacifiers often.

  • Use only cold (not hot) tap water to make baby formula and for drinking and cooking. Run the water for a few minutes first.

The Health Department's efforts to prevent lead poisoning among immigrant children include

  • Distributing educational materials in multiple languages to help immigrant parents reduce childrens exposure to lead

  • Working with community organizations to increase awareness within immigrant communities Providing information to health care providers and traditional healers on lead poisoning risks and blood lead testing.

  • Educating landlords and contractors on requirements to identify and safely correct lead-based paint hazards in homes.

Lead is a toxic metal that damages the brain, nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system. Lead poisoning can also cause problems in pregnancy and can lead to learning and behavior problems in young children.

Lead poisoning remains a serious public health problem in New York City despite continued declines in the number of cases. In 2006, there were 2,310 new cases of lead poisoning among children ages 6 months to 6 years an 88% decline since 1995, when nearly 20,000 children were newly identified with lead poisoning.


Contact: Jessica Scaperotti
New York City Health Department  

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