Background Lead is a common environmental hazard because of its past use as an additive to gasoline and household paint. Some evidence suggests that children with histories of child abuse and neglect are at elevated risk for residence in communities and households with less desirable characteristics and high levels of exposure to environmental hazards and toxins.
Objectives To understand whether childhood maltreatment leads to higher levels of household dust lead and blood lead in adulthood and the extent to which characteristics of a person’s physical environment or individual level socio-economic status (SES) (based on unemployment, poverty, and receipt of public assistance) contribute to understanding the relationship.
Methods A large prospective cohort design study in which abused and neglected children (ages 0–11) were matched with non-maltreated children and assessed in adulthood. Objective and subjective neighborhood characteristics were assessed at approximate age 40 and household dust lead (cleaned and less often cleaned) and blood lead levels were measured at age 41. Blood was collected through venipuncture by a registered nurse as part of a medical status exam.
Results Childhood maltreatment predicted higher levels of dust lead in less often cleaned household places, residence in worse neighborhoods defined by objective (census tract data) and subjective (reports of physical disorder and lack of social cohesion and control), and higher levels of poverty, receiving public assistance, and unemployment. Only objective neighborhood characteristics mediated the relationship between childhood maltreatment and dust lead level in adulthood. There were also significant paths from objective neighborhood disadvantage and individual level SES to higher levels of blood lead.
Discussion Thirty years after their childhood experiences, individuals with documented histories of childhood maltreatment are at higher risk for living in environments as adults with elevated lead levels that may impact other aspects of their lives and compromise their health.