Children Exposed to Lead May Benefit from Early Intervention Programs Interview with:

Jeanette Stingone PhD Assistant Professor, Epidemiology Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University

Dr. Stingone

Jeanette Stingone PhD
Assistant Professor, Epidemiology
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University  What is the background for this study?  What are the main findings?

Response: Lead is a well-established neurotoxin, particularly when exposure occurs early in life and in childhood. Associations between elevated blood lead levels and lower scores on tests of neurodevelopment and cognition are seen consistently across studies, even when examining lower levels of exposure.

While reducing exposure to lead is the primary intervention to prevent these adverse outcomes, there aren’t many interventions designed to support the neurodevelopment of children who have been exposed to lead. Some municipalities consider elevated blood lead levels as a criteria for inclusion in Early Intervention programs. Early Intervention programs are mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and provide services for children younger than 3 years old with disabilities or developmental delays.

The objective of this study was to compare 3rd grade standardized test scores among children who had elevated blood lead levels early in life to see if children who had received Early Intervention services performed better on these tests than those who did not receive services. Using matching methods and an existing administrative data linkage of children who were born and attended public school in New York City, we observed that children exposed to lead who received Early Intervention services scored higher on standardized tests in both math and English Language arts than children exposed to lead who did not receive services. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This study provides preliminary evidence that children exposed to lead early in life may benefit from receipt of Early Intervention services. Pediatricians, other care professionals and parents should monitor children exposed to lead for developmental delays that qualify them for these services. This study also reinforces the need to prevent lead exposure, even at low levels, among young children. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: Further research is needed to replicate these findings in other municipalities with similar available data on childhood blood lead levels and school test scores. It would also be beneficial to understand which services within Early Intervention programs are most helpful for children exposed to lead. In addition, future research should assess whether other early education or enrichment activities and interventions show similar benefits for children exposed to lead.


Stingone JA, Sedlar S, Lim S, McVeigh KH. Receipt of Early Intervention Services Before Age 3 Years and Performance on Third-Grade Standardized Tests Among Children Exposed to Lead. JAMA Pediatr. Published online March 07, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.0008

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Last Updated on March 7, 2022 by Marie Benz