There is no such thing as a safe blood lead level. Severe damage from lead poisoning has been a known effect for over 100 years; however, low levels of lead in the blood are now known to cause health issues as well. Lead is not a naturally produced particle in our body. Instead, lead contamination of our body comes from ingestion and/or inhalation of dust, water, and soil sources. There is a common misperception that your home needs to be really old in order to result in possible harms; however, when looking at the dates of federal lead removal mandates, it is quite unsettling. Our ban on lead paint use is from 1978; lead plumbing is from 1986; lead solder in food cans is from 1995. Dust and soil hazard standards weren’t fully created until 2001. This legislation is very new given that there has been clear scientific evidence of harms since the 1940s.
Lead is a very useful metal for everyday industrial, commercial, and residential purposes. Its abundant availability and versatile chemical properties are what made it difficult to replace in everyday life. As such, it now is ubiquitous due to its long-term use in our infrastructure, commercial products and housing. Though US legislation has been passed on some products, there is continued use of lead in things like imported/old cosmetics, pottery, herbal supplements, and spices. It is also concerning that lead has not been removed from ammunition, which is commonly used in our area for hunting and other shooting sports. Does your local shooting range have lead wipes and soap? While all people can be harmed by lead, individuals at greatest risk are our children and pregnant women. It was previously felt that children would have a safe blood lead level (routinely checked at 1 and 2 years of age) if it was less than 10 mcg/dL; however, blood levels under 5 mcg/dL (now the cut-off for an abnormal level) have been shown to cause decreases in IQ, academic achievement, and other specific cognitive measures. Low blood lead levels are also linked to an increase in inattention and problematic childhood behaviors.
I would urge all households to check for and remediate sources of lead. Please take advantage of recent city grant money that has been provided to dramatically subsidize the cost of lead water service lateral replacement. Lastly, please make sure that your child is tested for lead at ages 1 and 2 regardless of risk factors (the current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics). All at risk individuals (pregnant women with possible environmental exposure, occupational exposures, gun enthusiasts, home remodeling, etc.) should also be tested as discussed with your healthcare provider.
For more information, please visit the American Academy of Pediatrics online to view their recommendations from the Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention.
Andrew Lewandowski, Doctorate of Osteopathic medicine