The leaded generation
More than half of Americans alive today were exposed to dangerous levels of lead as kids
The average Gen Xer lost about 6 points of IQ due to early childhood lead exposure, according to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.
The era from roughly 1965 to 1980 — when Gen Xers were born — was also the period when leaded gasoline use peaked in the U.S. The lead in that gas got released into the atmosphere via automobile exhaust, and was subsequently inhaled by everyone living in the country at the time. That lead showed up in samples of children’s blood that were drawn as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an ongoing CDC project tracking the health of the country.
For the study, the researchers compiled and plotted that data in order to answer a fundamental question: how many Americans alive today were exposed to dangerous levels of lead as children? The chart below tells the story.