Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lead Poisoning - Why should you care?

Mirrored from Aurametrix

Lead poisoning (classified as T56.0 by ICD-10, C21.613.589 in MESH, also known as Devonshire colic, Devon colic, Colic Pictonium, colica pictonium, Saturnine Gout, saturnism, plumbism, or painter's colic) is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the metal lead in the blood. Lead poisoning can cause irreversible learning disabilities and behavioral problems, irreversible neurological damage as well as renal disease, cardiovascular effects, and reproductive toxicity, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma and death. Even low levels of exposure could lead to health issues such as allergies. Children six years old and under are most at risk.

Humans were exposed to Lead since at least the early Bronze Age and new about its detrimental effects on their health for over two thousand years. Yet, Lead was used for water pipes, cups, toys, statues, cosmetics, added to wines and foods. We are currently exposed to more lead than prehistoric men, but less than workers of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century or members of the Roman Society. Historians speculate that Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus had fertility problems (each had only one child) due to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning was even thought to contribute to the decline of the Roman empire. This may be pure speculation, but one thing is for sure: developmental lead exposures are associated with aggressive behavior. Prenatal and postnatal blood lead concentrations have been associated with higher rates of total arrests and/or arrests for offenses involving violence, as demonstrated in this 2007 study.

Over the years, the amount of lead found in water, food, air and everyday items has been reduced after discovering how dangerous the effects of exposure are. Lead has been removed from gasoline, residential paint and solder used for food cans and water pipes. As a result, lead poisoning is down but it is not gone.


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CDC estimates that lead poisoning affects about 310,000 children in the U.S. The largest number of cases is in California - as it has the largest population, and the largest latino population in particular. At least 75% of new cases of lead poisoning in California are among Latino children, according to state figures. In counties with large Latino populations -- such as Alameda, Los Angeles and San Diego - the number is closer to 90%. Higher average lead exposure is also experienced by African American children in the United States. A recent report from Maryland indicates increase of lead poisoning frequences in Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s and Washington counties. 2.5% of children tested in Baltimore had elevated lead levels in 2008, down from 3.5% in 2007. According to the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, the trends are upwards in a number of areas and plateaued in many others, see CDC's National Surveillance data and State results.
More cases are reported internationally, see, for example, this article on 300 Lead-Poisoned Children near China factory. This plant suspended operations on August 13, 2009.

Air is the most important route of exposure. Lead smelters, leaded gasoline, leaded paints... Almost all inhaled lead is absorbed into the body, while only about 10% ingested lead is absorbed - this number goes up to 70% in children though who are more vulnerable than adults. Environmental lead sources (closer related to proximate environment than home and care giving facilities) and, to a lesser extent, mouthing activity accounted for most low level lead poisoning in chidren under 2, in a 1985 Boston study. Dermal exposure plays some role too.

About 7% of lead poisoning is attributable to home renovation and remodeling, correlating with the age of the house and poverty level of the family. Between 2% and 25% of painted building components in older houses are still coated with lead-based paint. Old paint remains the leading cause of lead poisoning in the United States, but health experts have seen a dramatic rise in lead poisoning caused by other means.

Homes near busy streets may have high levels of lead in the soil - kept from the times when lead was added to gasoline and paints or added more recently from metal smelting, battery and other manufacturing. Cities are at highest risk for unsafe levels of lead in soils.

Lead dust in the family vehicles and on the child safety seats was recently found to be the main source of exposure in several recent Maine cases. Kids chew on the sides of those seats ... Or they put a cookie down" on the seat and then eat it, explains Mary Jean Brown, chief of the CDC's Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch.

Lead can be also found in candy, wrappers, pottery containers, in certain imported ethnic foods and medicines, cheap jewelry, glassware, cosmetics.

The list of of people suspected to suffer from lead poisoning include Beethoven (speculations were he got it from wine and mineral water consumption, although more recent findings attribute it to medical oinments and dispute that this was the cause of his death), Cocteau's leading man in La Belle et la bête (makeup), Mexican housewife Martha Elena Avila Garcia and thousands of the Torreon children (environmental contamination by Met-Mex Penoles), an unnamed woman (hair dye).

IUPAC Name: lead(2+) Latin: plumbum
Canonical SMILES: [Pb+2]
PubChem Compound ID73212
Pb CDB Chemical ID6691126
Pb+2 CDB Chemical ID3969136
NCI toxicity info

Lead is one of the heavy metals, widely present and used by humans for more than 3 millennia. Like Mercury, lead is a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues and bone over time. We may be exposed to lead both outdoors and indoors as it is found in the air, soil, dust, drinking water, food, personal care, household and various other consumer products. Herbal folk remedies may contain lead. Some spices or food coloring may contain lead pigments. Some candies and illicit liquor have been reported to be contaminated with lead. Lead poisoning was documented in ancient Rome, Greece, and China.
Regardless of how it enters the body (indestion, inhalation, skin), lead is absorbed directly through the blood into tissue and either accumulates in tissues or is excreted as waste. Some of it is absorbed into soft tissue such as the liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs. A very high proportion of absorbed lead is transferred to bone (hard tissue), where it accumulates over time and remains for long periods. The half-life (time for the body to excrete half the accumulated lead) is about 25 years. High lead concentrations can stay in the body for many years after exposure to lead has stopped.
Lead perturbs multiple enzyme systems. As in most heavy metals, any ligand with sulfhydryl groups is vulnerable. Perhaps the best-known effect is that on the production of heme. Lead interferes with the critical phases of the dehydration of aminolevulinic acid and the incorporation of iron into the protoporphyrin molecule; the result is a decrease in heme production. Because heme is essential for cellular oxidation, deficiencies have far-reaching effects.
  • The effects of lead poisoning on the brain are manifold and include delayed or reversed development, permanent learning disabilities, seizures, coma, and even death.
  • Counting evidence suggests that lead poisoning in childhood produces a long-term problem with learning, intelligence, and earning power.
  • Adults with lead poisoning have increased incidences of depression, aggressive behavior, and antisocial behavior. Men with lead poisoning tend to have lower sperm counts; women have an increase in miscarriages and smaller babies.
  • Adults with lead poisoning frequently have sleep disorders
  • Long term exposure to lead or its salts (especially soluble salts or the strong oxidant PbO2) can cause nephropathy, and colic-like abdominal pains.

Lead poisoning is often diagnosed by taking a blood test. Other tests may also be ordered, such as bone marrow biopsy and x-rays.
Acceptable levels in blood Levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) and any level of 10 or higher is a problem. Higher levels (can go above 70) can be a medical emergency.
Lead may poison children at levels lower than US standards. Levels of lead within the acceptable range (>3 µg/dL) have been linked to lower IQ scores and blood pressure.
Your doctor can order the blood tests. They are inexpensive and sometimes free.

Call the LeadLine (503-988-4000) for information about free lead in water testing

  1. Frequently wash hands, pacifier, toys and other items that may go in the mouth.
  2. Encourage healthy eating habits. Feed children nutritious low-fat meals high in calcium and iron.
  3. Flush water from tap for two minutes before drinking.
  4. Use cold tap water to prepare baby formula.
  5. Do not allow children or pets to play in dirt within three feet of the house’s foundation.
  6. Wipe dust from horizontal surfaces (counters, tables or floors) with a wet cloth or mop.
  7. Use a doormat to wipe feet or remove shoes to keep dust out of the house.
  8. Remove imported vinyl mini-blinds from areas frequented by small children.
  9. Keep children away from paint chips and lead dust.
  10. Do not place cribs, playpens, beds or high chairs next to areas where paint is chipping or peeling, or can be chewed.
  11. Learn if your home contains lead-based paint.
  12. Avoid hobbies that use lead include soldering, or making stained glass, bullets, or fishing sinkers.
  13. Contact your local health department for guidelines on remodeling a home with lead-based paint.
  14. Avoid candy from Mexico or other countries that contains tamarind and/or chili.
  15. Do not use old, imported or handmade dishes
  16. Avoid storing or cooking food in traditional, handmade pottery from Mexico.
  17. To prevent bringing lead home from work: use separate work clothes and shoes while at work, keep street clothes in a clean place; shower at work before going home; launder work clothes at work or separately from other cloth

Nutrition tips from EPA: Children with empty stomachs absorb more lead than children with full stomachs. Provide your child with four to six small meals during the day. The following nutrients
can help protect your child from lead poisoning:
  • Iron-Rich Foods
  • Calcium-Rich Foods
  • Vitamin C-Rich Foods

Aurametrix is working on tools to help you evaluate the risk of exposure and make the right health choices.

Aurametrix is an early phase company working on Health3.0 & Health 4.0 technologies. Better tools for a better world.
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