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Getting the lead out - still.

Last October, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reduced the danger level of lead for children by 60 percent. Now, more attention is being given to the dangers that adults face not only from lead in tap water, soil, and some plants and pesticides, but even from foil caps on wine bottles, some ceramic products, crystal ware, and other products.

Industrial lead poisoning has received renewed attention because of a recent report from California that dangerous blood levels of lead were found among employees in many trades that had been previously unsuspected. These trades include plumbing; heating; home renovation; radiator, marine, or automotive repair; ship building; and bridge construction. The report did not include do-it-yourselfers who may also be exposing themselves to dangerous levels of lead.

Of all the destructive agents our bodies can assimilate, lead is unique because it is an element that cannot be broken down into something else. Also, the kidneys and other organs cannot easily excrete it, and it tends to remain once ingested or inhaled. Almost any body tissue will absorb it, although 90 percent of it ends up in our bones.

Although lead does no harm there, any condition that causes bone calcium (to which lead is bound) to be released into the bloodstream will also release the lead to be absorbed by other tissues. These conditions include pregnancy, lactation, or osteoporosis. Thus, not only may expectant mothers and their newborn infants be exposed to lead that has been hidden away for many years, but also postmenopausal women and elderly adults of both sexes.

Unfortunately, not much information exists yet about the potential hazards of this lead that comes from bone (compared to all the information available about lead from external sources). Also, we still don't know how to rid the bones of lead when it is found there. All we can do is limit further exposure to it when it is found in the blood at dangerous levels.

Although reports have shown that children born to mothers with high bone levels of lead tend to exhibit significant learning impairment, we know much less about the effect of lead released from bone in older adults. We do know that ingested lead has disastrous effects on the vascular and nervous systems.

It seems reasonable to assume that lead released from bones may be a factor in both hypertension and dementia of unknown cause in the elderly. A Harvard School of Public Health study is now looking at the bone-lead levels of 2,000 elderly men to determine what ill effects may be associated with such levels.

However, lead poisoning of children from paint remains the overwhelming concern. The government has banned the use of lead in interior paints only since 1978, so there are many homes occupied by children at every level of society that are potential hazards.

Here's what you can do to protect your children or grandchildren who may live in an older house:

--Test the house for lead paint by using a service that may be available from your local health department or with an easy-to-use kit that you can obtain by calling the Lead Institute at 1-800-532-3837.

---Have your doctor test every child's blood at 12 months of age and again at 24 months--or earlier or more often if there is evidence of exposure.

--Contact your local health department for the name of a contractor qualified to remove peeling, flaking, or otherwise deteriorating lead paint, and keep children and pregnant women away while the paint is being removed.

--Reduce exposure of toddlers who may chew on windowsills that might contain lead paint by frequently wiping the sills and damp-mopping them with trisodium phosphate. You might also consider vacuuming them (the sills, not the kids) with an industrial unit that features a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) type of filtering system.

Although we reported some time ago on the lead-poisoning problem, we cannot emphasize this health hazard strongly enough. If anyone suggests that the lead problem is a tempest in a teapot, remind them that 46 million American kids are estimated to have dangerously high blood-lead levels.
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Title Annotation:lead poisoning
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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