Immigrant children are five times as likely as US-born children to suffer from lead poisoning in New York City, according to a Health Department study, and the risk is highest among the most recent immigrants.
The new study of children tested for lead poisoning in 2002 and published online in the American Journal of Public Health in December 2007, found that children who had lived abroad within the previous six months were 11 times as likely as US-born children to have lead poisoning.
The worst affected children are from countries where lead is less tightly regulated than in the US, including South Asia, particularly Pakistan, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico. While only 14 per cent of the city's children were born outside the US, 18 per cent of lead-poisoned children were foreign-born.
While the NYC Health Department could not document the exact sources of lead exposure for immigrant children, they said pollution, food, herbal medicines, dishes, toys, jewellery and cosmetics were likely to be the leading sources of contamination.
Lead-based paint is the primary cause of lead poisoning in the US, but immigrant children may face additional lead threats in their home countries. Earlier this year, toys made in China were found to contain high levels of lead. A study published in the journal Environmental Research found that more than 75 per cent of the consumer paint tested from countries without controls — including India, Malaysia and China — had levels exceeding US regulations.