Get the Lead Out!

pharsalia shed 72 dpiThe recent reports of high lead levels in the water in Flint, MI are shocking.  Most concerning is the fact that this danger was not publicized immediately – so action could have been taken to protect the citizens there.

In our society, it is impossible to avoid exposure to these toxic metals.  Lead was used to make paint in years past, and can be found in crumbling paint chips in older homes.  The US banned lead in paint in 1978, but toys manufactured in other countries can still contain lead and pose a significant risk to children.  Lead is also found in children’s jewelry that has been imported.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission lists many toys that have been recalled for high lead levels.

Leaded glassware (lead crystal), pewter, and ceramics (especially earthenware, pottery from outside the US, and older bone china and porcelain) can also be sources of lead.

Lead is also used as a color additive in makeup.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a list of their lead analysis in 400 different lipsticks.  Lead can also be a contaminant of the pigment used to color foundations and eye shadows.

Lead can also contaminate the earth and then be taken up into your home garden plants or eaten by your backyard chickens.  This is especially problematic in areas near old buildings with peeling paint, or where an older building has previously been demolished.  In past years, farmers used lead-based pesticides on orchards.  Although I live in a newer home, I don’t know what kind of farming may have occurred on my plot in previous years, or whether there were buildings on this land.

Stained glass artists who use lead solder, or those who like to refinish old furniture or renovate old houses are also at risk.

Where is lead hiding?

  • Old crumbling paint
  • Toys and children’s jewelry manufactured outside of the US
  • Ceramics and pottery, especially imported
  • Lead crystal
  • Older bone china and porcelain
  • Makeup

There is no safe lead level in the blood!  The body stores lead, often in the bones.  Lead causes kidney damage and is a brain toxin.

Many are aware that lead can cause speech delay, learning disabilities, ADHD, speech delay, loss of IQ.  All young children are screened for lead poisoning as part of their well child checks.  But most are not aware that lead can affect the thyroid.  Lead inhibits thyroid function by inhibiting the conversion of the relatively inactive T4 to the active T3 hormone.   High levels can cause kidney and nervous system damage in kids and adults.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults are vague:

  • High blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain or constipation
  • Poor memory
  • Headaches
  • Mood disorders
  • Muscle or joint pain

Screening is just a blood test!  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the current reference level for concern is a lead level over 5 micrograms per deciliter.  However, lead is a dangerous toxin and many experts believe that no level is safe.  You can also buy soil test kits that will measure lead in the soil.

How to protect yourself

  • Wash hands and toys
  • Avoid painted toys and children’s jewelry made outside of the US
  • Get your soil tested if you garden or your children play near old buildings
  • If your home was built before 1978, dust regularly with a damp cloth and damp mop
  • Paint over old paint. Don’t sand it or try to burn it off with a torch; both methods will generate small particles that you can inhale.  Wear protective clothing when renovating, and shower afterwards.
  • Check your makeup according to the FDA database or the Environmental Working Group database: make sure there is no lead in it.

To your health,

Patty Powers, MD