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Lead paint in houses built before 1978


Q: You hear a lot about how to protect children from lead paint in homes built before 1978. But I was born 1978, so I must have been toddling around freely in a home coated in lead dust, right? Does this mean I’ve been damaged?  -  Annie, MI

A: The bad news just keeps piling up for Generation X.  Not only is guitar rock dead, but those of us born in the 1970s (or before) can also assume that we’re carrying toxic levels of lead around in our bodies.  Lead is stored in the bones and organs for decades—it takes thirty years for levels to even be reduced by half, says Jane Houlihan, an environmental engineer with the Environmental Working Group. But of course that really doesn’t matter because the damage, which is irreversible, has already been done to our brains. Blood levels of lead that would have been pretty common in kids in the 1970s are associated with a seven-point drop in IQ. “Lead exposure is thought to be responsible for a global shift in intelligence. Levels were quite high in the 1970s and those exposures probably shifted an entire generation down a notch,” says Houlihan. So we’re all dumber than we ought to be and there’s nothing we can do about it? Well, yes. But the good news is that our kids are bound to be much smarter. Lead levels in children have fallen off dramatically, so Chinese toy fiascos notwithstanding, regulations and increased awareness have indeed improved matters when it comes to lead exposure. It’s still important to be vigilant, but it’s good to know that future generations will be too smart to spend their college years drinking Zima watching “Real World” marathons.

- Sarah Schmidt

Eco-inquiries, conundrums, snafus? Write to askplenty@plentymag.com.