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Study Finds Lead Affects ADHD, Even In Minuscule Amounts


Children play at Rainbow Kidz daycare center in Yakima. The daycare’s owner, Jose Luis Mendoza, wanted to make sure his soil was safe for children, so he added clean dirt. The state Department of Health says children in Yakima are at a higher risk for lead exposure but does not have enough data to answer the question of why. Officials suspect lead arsenate pesticides could be a factor.

Children play at Rainbow Kidz daycare center in Yakima. The daycare’s owner, Jose Luis Mendoza, wanted to make sure his soil was safe for children, so he added clean dirt. The state Department of Health says children in Yakima are at a higher risk for lead exposure but does not have enough data to answer the question of why. Officials suspect lead arsenate pesticides could be a factor.

Lena Jackson

For a while, scientists assumed there was a link between lead exposure and adult deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Now, Oregon Health and Science University says it’s been able to confirm that link.

Joel Nigg and his team confirm for the first time in humans a link between lead and ADHD.

Joel Nigg and his team confirm for the first time in humans a link between lead and ADHD.

Courtesy OHSU

Children inherit a propensity for ADHD from their parents, but there’s also considerable evidence it can be triggered, or made worse by environmental factors — like lead.

By looking at the genetics of almost 400 children, OHSU professor Joel Nigg says that for the first time in humans they’ve been able to scientifically confirm a lead and ADHD link.

“This means that it’s not just a genetic condition,” said Nigg.

“We have to take these environments very seriously. And if we do, we can get a handle on the cause,” Nigg said. “We can learn how to prevent ADHD.”

Kids pick up lead from old water pipes, smoke-stack emissions and dust generated by lead paint — like on an old window frame. 

And in some Northwest communities, lead and arsenic have turned up in high quantities in soil where orchards used to exist.

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