My Body Burden, Part 3: Lead | Seventh Generation
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My Body Burden, Part 3: Lead

Author: Inspired Protagonist

Chipping Lead Paint (Note: this is the third entry in my series of posts about the personal pollution that simply living in the modern world has left inside my body. If you're just joining this conversation about my "body burden", you can find my first two posts, which explain what this is all about, here and here.)

For thousands of years, lead has been one of humanity's favorite metals. It's easy to find and refine, and simple to work with. You can bend and mold it with little effort and the results will resist corrosion, block radiation, shield electromagnetic fields, and perform a host of other feats. That's why this heavy metal once was in nearly everything -- from paint to plumbing and gas to glass. And that's likely why it's inside me now.

My body burden test results tell me that there are 27.2 micrograms of lead in every liter of blood my body contains. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which helped me conduct these tests, this is a startlingly high amount -- only 18% of Americans have more lead in their bloodstreams than I do.

Although my lead level falls below the federal government's recommended childhood intervention threshold of 100 micrograms per liter of blood (no threshold exists for adults), it's still extremely worrisome because even small amounts of lead can be dangerous.

Lead can affect almost any organ or system, but it's the nervous system that bears the brunt of the havoc it wreaks. Lead exposure can damage nerve connections and cause brain disorders, decreased mental performance, and reduced cognitive capacity. It can create behavioral problems and learning disabilities. It can cause joint weakness, increase blood pressure, and trigger anemia. High levels can cripple our kidneys, poison our blood, and even kill outright.

Lead is also a potent reproductive threat. It can harm developing fetuses and cause miscarriage. It can delay puberty and damage the testes. Experts whose opinions I trust say there's really no level at which lead doesn't cause some amount of harm. The only truly safe amount of lead to have in your body is no lead at all.

Though my own levels are alarming, lead levels in general are a lot lower than they used to be. The tide turned around 1980 when the removal of lead from paint and gasoline, two of the most common modern sources for this toxin, really started to have an impact. While the doctors can't say for sure, this may be why I have such high levels: Exposures that occurred earlier in my life are still with me. As the EWG explains, on average we excrete about half of any lead that enters our bodies after approximately 25 years. So if I ingested, say, 100 micrograms of lead when I was 25, I'd still have 50 of those micrograms left inside me on my 50th birthday.

This makes lead's impacts on our health cumulative. The lead we ingest today is added to the lead we ingested yesterday, and most of this will be added to whatever we're exposed to tomorrow. All of which begs an important question: where is all this lead coming from if lead paint and gasoline have been banned?

The short answer is that it's probably still coming from those same places. Any home painted before 1978 most likely has some lead paint in it. As this paint chips and decays into dust over time, the lead it contains enters the environment and our bodies. Since lead is an element, it can't and won't decay into something less harmful. It can only move around from one place to another. All the lead added to gasoline and emitted from tailpipes for decades simply settled into our soil and waterways where it continues to haunt our health.

There are other ways we're exposed to lead. The lead solder once used to connect plumbing joints is a major source. Leaded crystal and lead-glazed pottery can also introduce lead into our homes. You'll find lead in certain kinds of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), especially PVC used in window blinds and electric cords like those on holiday light strands. Artificial turf can create lead contamination as it degrades. Even some herbal remedies and folk medicines can contain lead. Recently certain types of candy from Mexico have been found to be contaminated by lead. It's also been identified in some costume and toy jewelry, and in some imported toys, which can contain lead paint from countries that haven't banned it.

The experts tell me there's not much I can do about the lead I've already absorbed. What's now important for me and for all of us to do is to avoid future exposure to make sure that our current blood lead levels, whatever they may be, are as high as they'll ever get. We can do that by having our water tested for lead and filtering it if any is found. In older homes, we can keep our paint in good condition by repairing chipped surfaces. We can also use test kits to check suspect items for the presence of lead. (Store-bought swab kits can tell us if lead is present but not how much lead is involved. Since my attitude is that any lead is too much, that's enough for me.)

Steps like these can keep our body burdens of this dangerous metal to a hopeful minimum. But I think the real lesson to be learned in my test results is a precautionary one for the whole country. Because my blood is laden with lead that I likely encountered many years ago. The various (probably tiny) poisonings I experienced are all still with me to some extent. If this can happen with lead it can happen with other metals and with chemicals. And unless we change our ways, it will. We need to take strong regulatory steps based on the Precautionary Principle and make sure that we never again engage in the use of a material with even a small potential to cause serious, widespread, and often permanent harm. In the end, there's nothing anyone can really do about my body burden. But we can all work together to make sure that our children and their children never have to worry about such things ever again.

For additional information about lead visit the Environmental Working Group . You can also learn more about this dangerous toxin at the National Safety Council and the EPA.

Read: My Body Burden, Part 4: Mercury and Methyl Mercury

photo: Abby Lanes


CarolineCurtis picture
You can detox using chelation. I was a toxic waste dump of heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, tin. I reduced all my levels using DMSA. If you visit a naturopath, he/she could give you the procedure. You would first have a urine test. After that, you take DMSA on a daily basis and re-test the urine so many weeks later. You would keep doing this until your levels are acceptable. The DMSA removes the metals from your body (muscles, blood, etc.) and deposits them into your urine for elimination. Regular testing shows your progress. It worked for me.
dorothyp picture
dorothy A sauna detox is safe and effective if one follows the simple directions in the book Clear Body Clear Mind by Ron L. Hubbard. I have used it personally to very good effect and it has been used on persons who were at Ground Zero to excellent effect. Get the lead out! And other toxins as well.
DawnEarthMomma picture
Ever bitten into a ripe tomatoe off the vine? How about one from the grocery store that is the color of mauve pink? yuck On toxins in our food, bodies read Mark Hyman M.D. Dr. Hyman's books describe the chemistry and the biology defining how it affects us. His research explains how we need to "detox" because our brains absorb and respond according to the 'food' or nutrients we provide it(or not). Like Julia Child, he encourages eating fresh foods or locally grown--- EUREKA! How did we forget this simple concept?
hi picture
I think apples (raw apples) will help remove stored lead
betsy863 picture
There is a lot you can do about stored lead. Sauna detox (dry heat or dry heat + infrared) is very effective at getting rid of stored lead. This needs to be done under the supervision of a doc who knows what they are doing because you can get depleted on good minerals if you don't have the appropriate supplementation protocol. This method has been in use by the Environmental Health Center-Dallas since the 1970s and is quite effective. You can also get rid of it with EDTA chelation. Some MDs will do this and it is fairly easy to find a naturopath who will do it. You will feel much better once you get it out. It can cause all sorts of aches and pains, brain fog, and other assorted ailments. One study I recently heard about said that for every xx amount of lead (can't remember the amount) they were removing from kids, they were seeing a 1 point increase in IQ. Wow! You can actually monitor the lead burden going down via post chelation blood, urine, and/or fecal tests. Some also measure this with an annual hair test.
paradoxish picture
I've heard that one should never use warm/hot water out of the tap for drinking or cooking purposes as hot water absorbs more lead from any lead pipes or soldering. Always start with cold water (or, preferably, filtered water as someone pointed out already) for drinking and cooking.
hi picture
to take out lead and other chemicals from drinking water consider reverse osmosis filters instead of carbon filter (again changing the parts as reccomended by the manufacturer) - yes this wastes water too - but it will remove lead and other chemicals
hi picture
you can reduce lead exposure if it is in drinking water by letting the tap run for a few minutes before use (yes this wastes water), (but its your choice), OR fit a brita type solid carbon faucet filter approved for lead removal (and change the filter as often as reccomended by the manufacturer)