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Lead Poisoning is Still Something To Be Concerned About

Lead is one of a number of substances termed a "heavy" metal, all of which are either very difficult or impossible for the body to process out. In lead poisoning, ingested or inhaled lead enters the bloodstream. It inhibits the production of hemoglobin -- which is needed by red cells to carry oxygen -- and locks onto and inactivates essential enzymes in the brain and nervous system.

While lead poisoning among children was once mainly caused by old paint, U.S. manufacturers long ago banned the ingredient. Today, a new rash of high lead levels in the bloodstreams of American kids continues to be caused by foreign products -- mainly from China.

In the wake of scandals involving tainted food and toothpaste from China comes word of a new concern from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as well as the Food and Drug Administration. So serious is the resurgence of lead poisoning among U.S. children that the Iowa Department of Public Health is working on writing a new law to require mandatory testing of those entering school for the first time.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning may be hard to detect at first, because children who appear healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies. The accumulation of lead usually is gradual, building up unnoticed until levels become dangerous and cause signs and symptoms.

The signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children are nonspecific and may include:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sluggishness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Unusual paleness (pallor) from anemia
  • Learning difficulties

Signs and symptoms in adults

  • Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
  • Muscular weakness
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Memory loss
  • Mood disorders
  • Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm

Diagnosis of Lead Poisoning

A blood test is available to measure the amount of lead in your blood and to estimate the amount of your recent exposure to lead. Blood tests are commonly used to screen children for lead poisoning. Lead in teeth or bones can be measured by X-ray techniques, but these methods are not widely available. Exposure to lead also can be evaluated by measuring erythrocyte protoporphyrin (EP) in blood samples. EP is a part of red blood cells known to increase when the amount of lead in the blood is high. However, the EP level is not sensitive enough to identify children with elevated blood lead levels below about 25 micrograms per deciliter (É g/dL). These tests usually require special analytical equipment that is not available in a doctor's office. However, your doctor can draw blood samples and send them to appropriate laboratories for analysis.

Treatment of Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning can be treated if treatment begins before too much damage has occurred.

Lead is removed through a process called chelation, using drugs to bind to the metal in the bloodstream, flushing it out in the urine. Medications include calcium-disodium (EDTA), which is usually administered intravenously over several days in a hospital, and succimer (DMSA), which does not require hospitalization. Succimer (Chemet) has become the preferred chelating agent for less severe cases because it can be given by mouth.

Lead Poisoning in Chinese Products

IWave after wave of recalls have been announced with the only common denominator in each case being the product was “Made in China”. There are many theories floating around as to how these products were even sold on North American soil. 2007 was a record year for toy recalls. U.S. regulatory agencies and companies instituted numerous recalls for defective, dangerous or toxic products, such as toothpaste, children's jewelry, toys, tools, dog food, baby bibs, tires and computer batteries. The common link between many of these products: They were made in China and contain lead paint.

If you have, or know someone who has kids, you need to let them know about this site, and the effects of lead poisoning. With recent high-profile incidents involving dangerous goods imported from China, the American media has finally begun to warn consumers about the dangers of cheaply producing goods in a country hardly known for its strict safety regulations. After spending some time digging through product recall press releases, we’ve found that the mainstream media is still only reporting the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dangerous products imported from China.

Lead Poisoning a Threat for Children

Lead poses the greatest danger to babies and young children whose developing brains and neurological systems are very susceptible to its devastating effects, which include learning disabilities, behavioral problems, reduced IQ, mental retardation, academic failure, brain damage, neuropsychological deficits, hyperactive behavior and attention deficit disorder, antisocial (criminal) behavior, as well as seizures, coma, and death at very high levels.  Make no mistake that it is a deadly chemical.

The good news is that since its use as a motor fuel additive was banned in 1968 and its inclusion in house paints also subsequently prohibited, the average levels of lead found in children's blood has dropped significantly over the past 20 years.  Nonetheless, The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) found that about 1.7 million US children under the age of six still had blood levels above the Center for Disease Control's "safe" level.

Here are the major tips for avoiding lead contamination.  More information is available and if you have young children in a home that was built or painted prior to 1978 (which includes an estimated 83 percent of privately owned housing units built in the US), we urge you to seek it out by calling the National Lead Information Center at 1-800 424 LEAD.

1.  If you have small children in an older home with double-hung windows, only open the top window.  This reduces the amount of tiny paint chips from oxidizing paint that rain down onto the window sills and floors in the area of the window.  If you do keep the bottom window open, the area should be mopped frequently with a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP).

2.  If you're doing remodeling, again, we urge you to seek more information from the National Lead Information Center at 100-424-LEAD.  Lead paint removal is complicated and preventing contamination will require either a lot of planning, or the services of a qualified contractor.  Plan your remodeling so that children will not be around when old paint is removed.  You must also be careful that paint removed from the outside of the structure does not fall down on the ground around the home as it will contaminate the soil.

3.  Before drinking tap water (we don't think that in most cases, this is a very good idea anyway), let it run at least one to three minutes in the morning or anytime it has not been used for six hours orlonger.  Tap water standing in old pipes may dissolve unhealthy amoungs of lead from pipes or solder.  A good quality filter, however, will eliminate lead. [Link href to Water Filters]

4.  When installing or repairing plumbing, make sure the solder used is lead free.

5.  Avoid eating and drinking from imported ceramics, china and crystal that may contain lead.    

6.  If you have an old bathtub, replace it with a new one not covered with a lead-based glaze.

7.  Do not eat vegetables or fruits grown very close to busy roads or highways.  Residual contamination from leaded gasoline may still be in the soil.  

Lead in Your Home

Do you know how old your house is? You likely do know if you moved into the house when it was new or if you live in a newer neighborhood in the suburbs. But what if you are renting your home or apartment or you bought a previously owned home?

Lead poisoning is still a problem, especially in low-income children, urban children, and those living in older housing . It is estimated that 2.2% of children in the United States (about 434,000 children) aged 1-5 years have a blood lead level greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL, the level at which lead is thought to cause harmful health effects, including learning disabilities and behavior problems.

Just as concerning are new reports that show that there may be no safe lead levels. Some recent reports have shown small declines in IQ points for children even if their lead level was under 10. Another report showed a delay in when puberty begins in girls with lead levels less than 3.

To avoid your child having even low levels of lead, it is important to take the screening questionaires seriously and unless you are sure of the age of your home, answer that you don't know and request a blood lead level be tested.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends universal screening in areas with >27% of housing built before 1950 and in populations in which the percentage of 1- and 2-year-olds with elevated BLLs is >12%.

You can see if you live in an area where there are a lot of older homes by searching this census database. Select your 'state' and then 'county' and choose '1990 ZIP Codes within one State' to see how many of the homes in your zip code were built before 1950. Don't rely on your Pediatrician to know if you live in a high risk area. Your Pediatrician likely has patients in many different zip codes and might not know the risk for each.

There is also a recommendation from the Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention that screening blood lead test be performed on all children enrolled in Medicaid at ages 1 and 2 years.


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