Background: Few studies provide data directly relevant to the question of whether blood lead concentrations < 10 microg/dL adversely affect children's cognitive function.
Objective: We examined the association between blood lead concentrations assessed throughout early childhood and children's IQ at 6 years of age.
Methods: Children were followed from 6 months to 6 years of age, with determination of blood lead concentrations at 6, 12, 18, and 24 months, and 3, 4, 5, and 6 years of age. At 6 years of age, intelligence was assessed in 194 children using the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised. We used general linear and semiparametic models to estimate and test the association between blood lead concentration and IQ.
Results: After adjustment for maternal IQ, HOME scale scores, and other potential confounding factors, lifetime average blood lead concentration (mean = 7.2 microg/dL; median = 6.2 microg/dL) was inversely associated with Full-Scale IQ (p = 0.006) and Performance IQ scores (p = 0.002). Compared with children who had lifetime average blood lead concentrations < 5 microg/dL, children with lifetime average concentrations between 5 and 9.9 microg/dL scored 4.9 points lower on Full-Scale IQ (91.3 vs. 86.4, p = 0.03). Nonlinear modeling of the peak blood lead concentration revealed an inverse association (p = 0.003) between peak blood lead levels and Full-Scale IQ down to 2.1 microg/dL, the lowest observed peak blood lead concentration in our study.
Conclusions: Evidence from this cohort indicates that children's intellectual functioning at 6 years of age is impaired by blood lead concentrations well below 10 microg/dL, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of an elevated blood lead level.
Keywords: GAM; HOME; IQ; LOESS; Rochester; WPPSI-R; cohort; electrothermal atomic absorption spectrometry.