OHSU Study Confirms Causal Link between Lead Exposure and ADHD

January 13, 2016

A 1/17/16 Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) release reported on an article, Study First to Confirm Causal Link Between Lead Exposure and ADHD. Per OHSU,

"Scientists at OHSU Doernbecher Childrens Hospital have defined the first causal link between blood lead exposure and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in humans. While previous studies have associated lead blood levels with ADHD, research published in Psychological Science is the first to confirm previous hypotheses that exposure to lead in miniscule amounts typical in the U.S., or less than 10 parts per billion, increases symptoms in some individuals with ADHD."

Neither the OHSU announcement nor an Oregonian article on this topic (Study proves link between ADHD and even 'safe' lead levels) discussed the association between lead exposure and aviation fuel.

Aviation Responsible for 50% or More of Airborne Lead Emissions in the U.S.

Piston engine general aviation aircraft, often used for pilot training and recreational flying, are responsible for more than 50% of airborne lead emissions in the U.S. Commercial passenger aircraft by contrast utilize non-leaded jet fuel. (For additional information on this topic see the 9/3/12 Scientific American Article, Does the Continued Use of Lead in Aviation Fuel Endanger the Public Health and the Environment?)

In Oregon, the three airports owned and operated by the Port of Portland (Port) routinely release over a ton of lead into the environment each year. The worst offender is the Hillsboro Airport (HIO), the top facility source of lead emissions in Oregon and Washington County. Major contributors to these high emission levels are Portland Community College (PCC) Aviation Science student pilots who repetitively train over homes, schools, neighborhoods, waterways, parks and prime farmland. International student pilots, recruited by Hillsboro Aero Academy, also add to the high lead levels.

Vulnerable children and other residents who reside in Hillsboro and the surrounding area are exposed to at least 0.7 tons per year from this airport during the landing and take-off cycle. Additional lead is released during engine run-up checks, which per the EPA, is one of the largest sources of lead emissions in airport environs. Yet the Port chose not to include run-up lead emissions in their HIO estimates. In addition, lead is released during the cruise phase of flight.

According to the EPA, of the nearly 20,000 airports in the U.S., HIO ranks 21st in lead emissions. Port and Federal Aviation Administration documents forecast that HIO lead emissions will increase to 0.9 tons or more per year by 2021.

In Multnomah County, the Port owned and operated Troutdale Airport, which also caters to PCC and international flight training students, is the largest facility source of lead emissions while Portland International Airport (PDX) ranks third.

1 in 38 Young Children in U.S. Have Elevated Lead Levels

A 4/4/13 USA Today article by Alison Young, Lead Poisoning Toll Revised to 1 in 38 Young Kids, reports that approximately 535,000 U.S. children between the ages of 1 and 5 are estimated to have elevated and potentially harmful levels of lead in their bodies. Spurred on by mounting concerns and conclusive medical evidence about the damaging effects of lead even at very low levels, in 2012 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lowered the acceptable level of lead in a child's blood from 10 to 5 micrograms per deciliter while at the same time warning that there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood. As a result of this change, estimates now indicate that far more children are exposed to health threatening levels of lead. The damaging impacts of this neurotoxin and probable carcinogen are believed to be irreversible and can affect every organ in the body. In children lead is associated with lower IQs and attention deficits as well as behavior and learning problems. Lead exposure in adults is linked with cardiovascular disease, kidney disorders, dementia, and increased violence.

In addition, lead poisoning is a social justice issue. According to the CDC, children living in poverty and people of color are at higher risk of lead exposure than other populations.

Read more about these issues at the links below.

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