Chicken ownership has become increasingly popular in the United States in recent years, including in cities. Although wanting more nutritious, tastier, and safer eggs is an often-cited motivation for backyard chicken owners, eggs from urban chickens can contribute to lead exposure in young children, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.
The study, published in Environmental Research, finds eggs from backyard chickens in Greater Boston contain notably higher concentrations of lead than market eggs, and eating these eggs could increase blood lead levels in children, particularly those younger than a year old.
“Backyard chickens can be a great way for kids to learn about animals and nutrition,” says Dr. Jessica Leibler, assistant professor of environmental health at BUSPH and the study’s co-lead author with doctoral student Komal Basra. “However, even low levels of lead exposure can harm child development, so testing your coop soil for lead and replacing it if necessary is important to protect children’s health.”
Dr. Leibler and her colleagues recruited 51 households with backyard chickens in Greater Boston for the study. They collected and analyzed the lead concentrations in 201 eggs from the participants’ chickens and in soil samples from 48 coops.
The researchers detected lead in the yolks and whites of the eggs from 98 percent of the households that provided egg samples, with a strong association between lead levels in eggs and in the soil from the coops where the eggs were from.
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