What is lead poisoning?
“Lead poisoning: An acute or chronic poisoning caused by the absorption of lead or any of its salts into the body. Lead poisoning is an environmental hazard that is capable of causing mental retardation, behavioral disturbance, and brain damage. Lead poisoning is formally defined in the US as at least 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.”* -www.medterms.com
*[Note: This is out of date, as the Centers For Disease Control’s official “poisoned”—or more accurately—”action” level in the U.S. is now 1/2 of that amount—or 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter. Many in the scientific community are advocating that that figure should be lowered to 1 microgram per deciliter, based on our current understanding.]
Who is “at risk”?
Lead poisoning does not discriminate.
Children of any age, ethnicity and socioeconomic background can be poisoned.
One in three American children under 18 years old today has had an unsafe level of lead in their blood in their lifetime. This works out to more than 22,000,000 American children.
The naturally occurring level of lead in pre-industrial humans was found to be 0.016 micrograms per deciliter. Today 31% of children have had a BLL (blood lead level) of at least 2.5 micrograms per deciliter or higher at some point in their lifetime. That is more than 150 times the naturally occurring level of lead. As lead is a potent neuro-toxin even at trace amounts and experts now agree that there is no “safe” level of lead in a child’s blood; even this seemingly small amount of lead can cause permanent damage to the children exposed.
Adverse health effects of lead in children have been documented with levels as low as a blood lead level 2.0, and new research (just on the verge of being published) is demonstrating adverse impacts on children when maternal lead during pregnancy is as low as “general adult population” levels are today —0.48 micrograms per deciliter.
Why is this a problem?
Lead poisoning causes long-term adverse health effects in children and the earlier a child is poisoned the greater potential for damage. Due to some chemical similarities, when lead is present it is absorbed by the body and brain in the place of calcium. When a young child is poisoned and the neurons in their brain are at a stage of rapid growth and development, the damage to the brain can be especially significant, resulting in brain damage that leads to lifelong challenges—including behavioral disorders, learning disorders, ADD / ADHD, Autism Spectrum symptoms and more.
While lead is pervasively present in the homes, childcare centers, schools and playgrounds where our children spend their time, the majority of children are never tested for lead-exposure. As a result, when symptoms arise later in life (school age and beyond) they may not be traced back to early childhood lead-exposure and instead of being treated appropriately – with brain injury rehabilitation therapy – they are routinely misdiagnosed as an independent illness (not the symptom of poisoning) and treated with pharmaceutical interventions and therapies that may not be appropriate or productive in fostering longer-term healing and recovery (and are just useful in suppressing the symptoms of the poisoning.)
What can I do about it?
It is important that all children be tested early and regularly for lead in their blood even if no specific source of lead is suspected. The Lead Safe America Foundation recommends maternal testing pre-conception, followed by routine maternal blood lead testing during pregnancy and after delivery so that the blood lead level of a child can be determined at birth without necessarily needing to test the child. [A newborn’s blood lead level will typically be 80 to 100% of the blood lead level of the mother.]
Once a child is born we recommend testing the child before they start to crawl, and then again 6 to 8 months later, with (depending on the initial levels) regular follow-up testing annually during well-visit checks (or in conjunction with an immunization schedule.)
The opportunity created with this testing schedule is that a potentially toxic home environment (or work practices of a parent in a trade that may involve lead) will be detected prior to the child being poisoned. It is also useful to know the background level of a child, should they later test positive for lead – as that will help to determine the chronological window of exposure of that child, making it easier to identify the source of exposure and therefore potentially easier to remedy the problem.
If a mother tests positive for lead prior to conception, this is the ideal time for the parents to make sure their home is lead-safe and for the mother to have the opportunity to detox her body prior to conceiving a child. This opportunity (for a discussion and inquiry into lead-poisoning) is also a great time to introduce the issue to prospective parents, as it will have the greatest impact in potentially protecting the child from ever being exposed in the future.
If a child tests positive before they start to crawl (in the 6 to 10 months window) the parent can immediately remove the child from the source of exposure (in many cases this will be dust created from the opening and closing of original windows and doors in pre-1980’s homes**), potentially preventing the child from being impacted by a much more serious longer term exposure once they become mobile (given infant mobility is on the dirtiest and most lead contaminated surface of our home – our floors.)
**Lead-based paint was banned for residential use in the U.S. in 1978. Given the nominal “shelf-life” of 3 years for paint. lead could be reasonably assumed to be possibly present in any painted residential surface up until at least roughly 1981.
What else can I do?
In addition to testing yourself and your children, we recommend testing your home and your soil, and if possible, your children’s school and/or daycare center. Once you know your child’s home and school are lead-safe, you can expand the scope of protecting your children by helping to ensure the other places they visit are also lead-safe (for them and their playmates: friends houses, grandparents houses, playgrounds, community centers, and more.)