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Overseas Lead Exposures Identified for U.S.-Bound Refugee Children


Refugee children who settle in the U.S. are known to have a higher risk of elevated blood lead levels than U.S.-born children, but the prevalence and risk factors overseas have not been documented. 

In a new study, "Lead Poisoning in United States-Bound Refugee Children: Thailand-Burma Border, 2009," in the February 2012 Pediatrics (published online Jan. 16), researchers tested blood lead levels from children aged 6 months to 14 years from refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border. Of 642 children, 33 (5.1 percent) had elevated blood lead levels, with the highest prevalence (14.5 percent) in children younger than 2 years. Risk factors included anemia, exposure to car batteries and taking traditional medicines.  Among children <6 years old, the prevalence of elevated blood levels in these refugee children was seven times higher than U.S. children. Elevated blood lead levels can cause long-term harm to a child's development. Authors conclude that measures should be taken to protect Burmese and other refugee children from exposure to lead, in camps and after resettlement in the U.S.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.