The American school system has long faced intense criticism regarding unfair and discriminatory practices as it relates to Black students and national testing—and now new evidence suggests that the issue could be related to health. Courtesy of a just-released study, it was discovered that childhood lead exposure of Black students in predominantly Black neighborhoods is directly linked to their lower test scores in comparison to their white student peers.

According to @NBCNews, a recent study from Duke University uncovered some disturbing findings regarding Black students and lead exposure. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, data revealed that Black students faced disproportionate levels of lead exposure in racially segregated neighborhoods—which is linked to the widespread low test scores of Black students when compared to their white counterparts. Black students living in neighborhoods suffering from poverty, lack of resources, and racial segregation are at a heightened risk of being exposed to lead.

Mercedes Bravo, Duke University Assistant Research Professor of Global Health and also the head of the study, detailed the alarming results via statement. “This is not surprising because lead is a known neurotoxicant. Residing in a racially segregated neighborhood was also associated with lower 4th grade reading test scores among NHB (non-Hispanic Black) children. And, critically, at high levels of segregation, the combined association of these two exposures on test scores was larger than expected.”

Bravo continued pointing out the storied history of racism related to the lead exposure in predominantly Black neighborhoods. “This study suggests that the long history of structural racism — which among many other things has produced racially segregated neighborhoods — and environmental injustice (here in the form of lead exposure) can combine to systematically disadvantage specific students and groups of students in the US,” she stated.

Even more alarming in the research, were the reports that the lasting effects of lead exposure can occur well into adulthood, affecting intelligence, academic performance, and economic stability.


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