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  • Writer's pictureClare Marie

Get the Lead Out! A Highway to Health Blog

A quick follow up to our "Highway to Health" about lead poisoning and abatement, this guest blog by Nicole Dreiske will give you the key facts you need to avoid lead poisoning. You can also listen to a no-frills edit of the segment itself at the bottom of this page.

Be sure to join Nicole and me as we tackle the Blue Light Blues, talk about remote learning and all forms of screen use--and take your calls--on the "Highway to Health," Tuesday, August 25 from 8-9am ET on SiriusXM 146. For more on kids and screens, check out her remarkable work with the International Children's Media Center, and her book, The Upside of Digital Devices.


What is lead and why is it a problem?

Lead is a heavy metal that is used in manufacturing many common items including weights, televisions, and cell phone components. Despite its usefulness, we need to remember that lead is a poison! It becomes dangerous when it appears in any form that can be absorbed by the human body.

Here’s why: When lead gets into the bloodstream, it travels to all major organs, most importantly the brain. If lead gets inside of an infant’s or a child’s brain, it can do serious damage. In fact, it only takes the tiniest bit of lead to poison a child, 5 millionths of a gram.

When a child is lead poisoned, they may have trouble learning, paying attention, have a lower I.Q., be hyperactive, and have difficulty getting along with others. Lead poisoning has also been linked to delinquent and criminal behavior later in life because of changes it makes to the developing brain. These hardships are truly avoidable and happen only because people ignore, or don’t know about, the danger.

Although children are at greatest risk, lead poisoning is just as dangerous for adults. Some signs and symptoms of adult lead poisoning are:

· High blood pressure

· Joint and muscle pain

· Difficulties with memory or concentration

· Headache

· Abdominal pain

· Mood disorders

· ED, reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm

· Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women

In both children and adults, high levels of lead may also cause seizures, coma, or death.

How much lead is too much?

No amount of lead in the body is safe. None. Lead does not belong in the human body. Even tiny amounts like 5 micrograms can harm the brain and nervous system for life. Consider this: If you look at the back of a sweetener packet, it will tell you that it contains 1 gram of sweetener. One gram equals 1 million micrograms. Research has shown that as little as 5 micrograms in a deciliter of blood are enough to cause lead poisoning. Think of how little 5 micrograms are, if a whole sweetener packet contains 1 million of them!

For adults, the CDC says that lead blood levels are considered high when they are greater than 10 micrograms/deciliter.

To combat this, check out the Adult Blood Level Surveillance Program – a national effort to lower lead blood levels in adults!

How do we and our families encounter lead?

The most common source of lead is through lead paint used in houses built before 1978.

Although the US banned the use of lead in paint for residential housing in 1978, there are an estimated 24 million homes that still have lead paint inside and out.

Lead paint deteriorates just from the friction caused by doors, windows, or drawers opening and closing. In fact, the single biggest cause of lead poisoning is from super-fine DUST that comes from repeated friction over-time.

The dust is so deadly because young children have a habit of putting things AND THEIR HANDS in their mouths. It’s a natural thing for them to do! Unfortunately, this means that children can get lead inside of their bodies after crawling on the floor or putting their hands on window sills and other surfaces.

On older buildings, peeling paint also can chip and fall in the dirt and leave lead in the soil where children play. One easy way to spot lead-based paint is the way it cracks: Lead-based paint chips off in little squares or broken up pieces, like the skin of an alligator. Newer, latex-based paint peels off in long strips

Not-so-fun fact related to driving: Before 1996, gasoline had lead in it. Lead was added to stop “engine knock” and make engines quieter. But even though gasoline for cars doesn’t contain lead today, a large quantity of lead from gasoline got into the air and soil before 1996. It’s still there, because lead is a heavy metal and it doesn’t wash away or disappear!

How do I know if my child or I have been lead-poisoned, and what do I do?

Just ask your doctor for a Blood Lead Level (BLL) test to find out if lead is in your or your child’s body. If your lead levels are high, your doctor may recommend Chelation therapy.

Chelation therapy uses special drugs that bind to metals in your blood. The therapy is administered in pill form or through an intravenous tube. Once the drug has attached to the metals, your body removes them through urine. Chelation therapy is generally recommended for adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning, and for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater. Under a doctor’s care, it can be safe and effective.

Unfortunately, it can be extremely painful for children.

Also, while lead poisoning can be treated, any damage already caused cannot be reversed.

If your child’s blood lead levels are high, a good way to combat the negative effects of lead is with a diet high in Vitamin C, iron, and calcium. These vitamins and minerals can actually slow down the body's absorption of lead. Foods like fortified cereals, cheese, and beans are great because they contain iron and calcium. Bell peppers, watermelon, and leafy greens are excellent for Vitamin C intake. A child with a full stomach of healthy foods will absorb less lead, and absorb it slower than usual!

Another way to limit the damage of lead poisoning in children is to give them a caring, supportive learning environment at home. Because lead may negatively affect a child’s ability to learn, spending extra time reading to your child is a great way to counteract learning loss.

How can we prevent lead poisoning?

There are many ways to prevent lead poisoning if your home was built before 1978 and some of them are very easy!

Tip # 1 - Use wet mops and rags when cleaning. Brooms and dry rags will spread dust that could contain lead.

Tip #2 - Make sure children wash their hands before eating a meal, after they play outside, and before bedtime. Hand sanitizers won’t remove lead. Additionally, pacifiers need to be washed constantly because, once they are out of a baby’s mouth, they are usually on the ground!

Tip #3 – Keep work clothes at work. Don’t bring your dirty work clothes into the house, especially areas your children play in.

Tip #4 - Keep cribs and toys free of lead hazards. Make sure your cribs are made of safe materials and keep them away from older window frames or walls that show cracks or may have peeling paint.

Tip #5 RRP - If your home or apartment was built before 1978 and you’re repairing, remodeling or painting, make sure that the area being remodeled is sealed off from the rest of the house with thick plastic. The Environmental Protection Agency requires contractors working on these older houses to be specially trained so that they not release lead into the air when removing the old paint. If you’re doing your own repairs at home, you can find detailed safety guidelines here.

Lead poisoning is one of the few major, unrecognized health threats to children. It can keep entire communities down, lowering the chances for young people to succeed and realize their dreams. However, it is also one of the most preventable environmental health problems. Just a little awareness allows you to take steps to prevent lead poisoning. You can easily make your home lead safe for yourselves and the little ones you love.

--Nicole Dreiske is an EPA-certified instructor of RRP classes, that are mandated for all contractors working with homes built before 1978.


Here's an edit of the lead segment with Nicole Dreiske, pared down to the essentials for you. And here's what you'll learn:

  • 3:15--Lead = Poison = Permanent Damage

  • 4:46--Shocking stats, financial impact of lead poisoning

  • 6:40--Main source? Lead paint/dust

  • 9:19--This is your brain on lead...and your bones on lead. Any questions?

  • 11:15--The DL on the BLL (Blood Lead Level test)

  • 12:02--Lead poisoning, not just for kids!

  • 14:03--Pottery, cheap body jewelry, and even candy, spices, and cosmetics can contain lead!

  • 17:45--What about old pipes?

  • 18:16--More on paint! (It's that important.)

  • 20:27--How much lead is too much lead? And a note on pregnancy (more on that at the very end.)

  • 21:36--How do adults who don't suck on paint chips get exposed to lead?

  • 23:49--How to remove lead from the body

  • 25:28--Lead and your diet

  • 27:41--Renovation and household tips

  • 29:30--Listener question on lead removal/remediation, plus a note on window replacement

  • 34:52--Pets get lead poisoning too!

  • 36:32--(Lead) Dust in the Wind

  • 37:19--Lead misconceptions

  • 38:50--Lead and pregnancy



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