The call to drink plenty of water each day, remain hydrated, and replace it for sugary drinks is something we hear repeatedly. But when the water comes from leaded pipes (how many people test their water?), what are we doing to children’s delicate, developing brains?
The World Health Organization has recognized the dangers of lead regarding children and has materials related to lead and how we need to address its presence in our environment.
Besides ETOH which can slip through our brain defense system, aka the brain/blood barrier, water can readily deposit lead into brain tissue. Previously, we discovered that leaded car fuels also provide a gap in this essential brain protection. Which was more important, protecting children’s brains or stopping engine knocks in cars?
Understanding the damage lead pipes can do to children is central to being a good parent, having a responsive local government, and the EPA backing up efforts to replace old lead lines. The Biden administration is now addressing this pressing issue.
One way to measure the lead in children’s blood is a blood lead level (BLL), which is essential for developing guidelines regarding the developmental disability of children. Large cohorts of children in the 2.6 years range found that too many had higher lead levels and a developmental disability, possibly as a result.
Although lead levels were declining, significant population swaths are still affected by lead contamination. These groups are in the lower socioeconomic status, segregated communities, and those where governments have not replaced lead pipes. How did these children develop such high levels of lead in their blood and what might be done about it are two questions essential to a healthy child’s life.
Finding the Lead
Lead is ubiquitous and can be found in multiple locations. Therefore, it is insidious in its ability to cause exposure since we may not know its source. The neurotoxic substance can be found in soil and paint in homes and in the water coming from every spigot in a residence once we know that leaded pipes serve it.
What do many children do in the home? They chip away at painted surfaces with their young teeth and then ingest the poison.
How many people know that canned foods used to employ lead solder in can production? And how many of us ate foods that may have been contaminated by this lead leaching out from the cans? Any tomato product is likely to put lead into the food because of its acid content.
It may have been canned food that killed members of an 1845 expedition to the Arctic. “Dramatic evidence that lead poisoning was a key element in the failure of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 Arctic expedition has come from the result of postmortems conducted on the preserved bodies of three of Franklin’s crewmen taken from their frozen graves on Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic.”
One problem with lead exposure for children is that they may be asymptomatic at screenings because lead poisoning takes time to build up in brain tissue. However, it is associated with serious behavioral and intellectual deficits in children and adults. “By the time the detrimental effects of lead poisoning manifest, it may be too late as the effects are cumulative and irreversible.”
Still, a menace to children’s intellectual development, blood levels for lead are established and are “acceptable” according to agencies setting these parameters. The CDC has set blood levels in children that some find unacceptably high. “There’s no safe blood lead level for children. Lead can damage children’s kidneys, blood, and brains — and at high levels, it can cause coma, seizures, and death.”
How Can Lead Levels Be Lowered?
While the CDC believes they have set lead blood levels that are safe for children, what can healthcare professionals do in areas where BLLs are high?
Two types of removing lead from the blood have been devised. “Chelation therapy. In this treatment, a medication given by mouth binds with the lead so that it’s excreted in urine. Chelation therapy might be recommended for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater and adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning.”
The second is EDTA for children or adults who cannot tolerate the first chelation method.
The primary emphasis regarding lead poisoning must be eliminating it from all environmental substrates. Even through the present and future efforts to reduce this exposure, there will be many adults and children who will suffer lifelong disabilities due to prior lead exposure.