Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), acceptable Blood Lead Levels (BLLs) for children are <5mcg/dL. However, there is no measurable level of lead in the body below which no harm occurs. Lead is toxic to the brain! It does not matter if a child inhales, swallows, or absorbs lead particles, the health effects are the same. However, higher levels of lead are absorbed when it is inhaled. Sometimes a child can have no symptoms yet have elevated BLLs.

Symptoms that may manifest in a child include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Slow growth
  • Malformed bones and behavioral problems

Very high levels can cause seizures, coma and death. At a BLL of 10 mcg/dl IQ drops 5-7 points.

Lead is found in nature in abundance in North America and many other parts of the world. Sources of lead exposure include air, water (“lead free” brass pipes can be 5-7% lead), imported goods (lead-glazed dishware, leaded crystal, lead solder in canned goods, spices, herbal medicines, candy from Mexico, children’s jewelry) and cosmetics like lipstick. Leaded gasoline is still used by some farm machinery, boats and race cars.

I recall listening to a story on National Public Radio about medicinal herbs from China and it was reported that they used the diesel exhaust from trucks to dry the herbs.

Perhaps the biggest route of exposure for children is from lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust. Although, lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978, the majority of houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. It is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem. Millions of homes have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust.

If you suspect lead exposure for you or your child, a simple blood test can determine the blood levels. If this is not a part of your healthcare providers workup please ask for it to be included. Keep in mind that lead in the blood only shows the exposure that occurred over the previous 2 weeks since lead gets absorbed into tissue fairly rapidly. If you suspect the exposure happened weeks to months ago or longer, consult an environmental medicine physician for advice on how to measure the body burden of lead.