What to Know about Lead Exposure in Children

A recent outbreak of lead poisoning from cinnamon in applesauce has drawn attention to the toxic effect the heavy metal can have on children. The cinnamon in the applesauce was believed to have been intentionally contaminated, possibly to add to its value as a commodity sold by weight. It had unusually high levels of lead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 400 children were poisoned in the applesauce outbreak. Their median blood lead levels were six times higher than the average seen during the height of the Flint water crisis, the C.D.C. said.

While such poisoning cases are rare, lead is a widespread contaminant and has been under increasing scrutiny. Here’s what you need to know.

How do children get exposed to lead?

Paint is one of the most common and well-known sources of lead. Children can also be exposed by drinking water that flows through old lead pipes.

Lead poisoning through food is less common but does occur. Lead can get into food at low levels when plants draw it up from the soil. For instance, a study about baby foods found that sweet potatoes had some of the highest levels of lead among the products tested.

A lead-based pigment is sometimes illegally added to spices to bulk them up or make their color pop. The Food and Drug Administration suspects that the additive caused the applesauce contamination last year.

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