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Kids Exposed to Mercury or Lead More Likely to have ADHD Symptoms, Canadian Study Finds

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Children exposed to higher levels of mercury or lead are three to five times more likely to be identified by teachers as having problems associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to a scientific study published today.

The study - of Inuit children living in Arctic Quebec -  is the first to find a high rate of attention-deficit symptoms in children highly exposed to mercury in the womb. In addition, the Inuit children more often had hyperactivity symptoms if they were exposed to the same low levels of lead commonly found in young U.S. children.

In the United States, one of every 10 children has been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is one of the most common brain disorders of childhood.

Researchers from Laval University in Quebec surveyed teachers of 279 children in Nunavik between the ages of 8 and 14, using standardized questionnaires developed by psychiatrists for diagnosing ADHD.

Developmental psychologist Gina Muckle, the study's senior author, said the findings are important because they show for the first time that mercury's effects on children are not just subtle, but are actually noticeable to teachers. They "may be clinically significant and may interfere with learning and performance in the classroom," says the study, published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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