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The top priority of the R.I. Department of Education is ensuring education excellence, according to Deborah A. Gist, commissioner of elementary and secondary education. To do that, Gist’s focus has been on improving the quality of the teacher in the classroom.
But harmful lead levels in the bloodstream of children, particularly in the state’s core urban centers – Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket – may prove to be an equally important part of the equation in the nonperformance of students in reading and learning and standardized testing, according to researchers, advocates and public health officials anticipating two forthcoming research studies examining the educational impacts of lead poisoning in Rhode Island.
Dr. Patrick M. Vivier, an associate professor of community health and pediatrics at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, as well as a pediatrician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, is a primary researcher on one of the studies.
“I think that lead poisoning is a particular burden for low-income, urban communities in Rhode Island,” Vivier told Providence Business News. “This has individual and community-level negative consequences that we must address,” he said of the long-term, persistent educational consequences of lead in young children affecting their ability to learn.
Dr. Peter Simon, who was worked on lead-poisoning issues at the state Department of Health for more than three decades, voiced concern about the long-term legacy of lead poisoning in Rhode Island’s urban communities.
“I am worried about the impact of lead on Rhode Island’s urban communities and their sustainability and economic competitiveness,” he said.
Simon believes the new research, expected to be published by the end of the year, will show that lead poisoning has harmful and persistent effects on children’s ability to learn and to read in Rhode Island, even at lower levels than the current threshold.