BLOOD-LEAD levels could be affecting students' learning

Thursday, July 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PICHER, Okla. (AP) _ The lead levels in the blood of children living near the Tar Creek Superfund site could be affecting their learning, the superintendent of the Picher-Cardin school district said.

Students with high blood-lead levels are reading below their grade in school, Superintendent Bob Walker said Wednesday. Walker will share results of a new study during a public meeting Monday night.

Officials will discuss the future of Picher and provide an update on cleanup efforts.

Picher has faced numerous problems including unsafe drinking water, the danger of sinkholes, open mine shafts, piles of mining waste and high blood-lead levels in children.

If it turns out that the blood-lead levels are causing learning difficulties for some students, serious action should be taken, Walker said.

``If it steals their potential, that's the thing that is really discouraging,'' he said.

Many Picher-Cardin students are doing fine in school, but a small sample of students with high blood-lead levels may signal a correlation between those levels and learning difficulties, Walker said.

Walker's opinion was based on a school study of 28 students ranging from kindergarten to third grade whose parents gave permission for release of their child's blood-lead levels.

Fourteen of the 28 students had a blood-lead level of 7 micrograms per deciliter or greater, and 14 had a level of 6 micrograms or under.

``No blood level is a good level. Zero is what we like to have,'' said Ken Cadaret, coordinator of the Oklahoma Department of Health's childhood lead poisoning prevention program.

In Walker's study, 12 of the 14 students who tested at blood-lead levels of 7 micrograms or greater had reading levels at least nine months below normal for their age. In the group with levels of 6 micrograms or below, four students tested at a normal reading level.

Four more were 3 months to 8 months behind the normal reading level and the other six students tested nine months or farther behind the normal reading level for their age.

Walker said it is a small sample group and the study wasn't the most scientific. But he said the numbers still warrant more attention.

``We felt like there's enough of a correlation where lead should not be dismissed as a factor in learning problems,'' he said.

Reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that ``lead induced nervous system damage in children has been shown to decrease cognitive abilities by as much as five IQ points.''

While most students in the overall Picher-Cardin population do not have learning difficulties, the fact that an environmental issue may be holding some back should be a top priority for the community, Walker said.

``We've got kids that do a good job, but I just think everyone should be on a level playing field,'' he said. ``I don't think anyone would want their child's learning ability inhibited, if it can be prevented.''