Monday, March 08, 2004

'Race Studied As Factor in Blood Lead Disparities'

I was really upset with this headline since this is an prime example of why TV news can be irresponsible and scary. The title of this article doesn't do justice to the real subject of the article, which is the high levels of lead found in DC water.

Now if you read to the end of this piece, you'll find the disclaimers to the statement above.
    Little has been published on the subject of genetic links to blood-lead levels. Mary Jean Brown, chief of the lead poisoning prevention branch of the environmental health center at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that Lanphear's findings are provocative but that their significance is not yet understood.

    "The question is whether it's a biological mechanism or there is some kind of more intense relationship between poverty, substandard housing and exposure to lead that is captured by race rather than socioeconomic status alone," Brown said. "They are certainly questions worth asking."

    Herbert L. Needleman, a University of Pittsburgh professor of pediatrics and child psychiatry who has published landmark research on lead and antisocial behavior, said the differences in racial circumstances are too complex to reduce to a mathematical equation, such as Lanphear's, that fairly compares the races.

    "A simple adjustment for socioeconomic factors doesn't take into account differences in the overall life situation of blacks and whites," he said.

    Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is doing research on genetic factors in lead absorption, said Lanphear's observations are inconclusive. "I am very reluctant about ascribing a genetic difference in something like this unless we really can be certain we have completely eliminated differences in exposures," she said. "You can have two people in the same setting, and one is more [contaminated] than the other because of differences in behaviors you might pick up."
On top of that, the journal article in question by Lanphear, was published in 2002 in the Journal of Pediatrics. This was not a very recent article and as you can see by the quotes above, there is much to be disputed by their results. I will say that I don't know whether race is an issue. My comments are directed toward the irresponsible and provocative use of titles seen above. This is not a soundbite or meme I would like to come across or have to dispute. It gets too close to inappropriate concepts of 'self-responsibility' and blame, mainly ideas that 'it's your fault because of your race'.