Alt-Health: Get the Lead Out

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan, first raised the alarm about lead in the water. Flint had switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the polluted local river in April 2014, immediately triggering widespread complaints of illness. City and state officials ignored reports and assured citizens that the water was safe. Dr. Hanna-Attisha preferred to trust the results of her own testing. It showed that the number of children who had dangerous blood lead levels had doubled since the switch to river water, jumping from 2.1%  to 4%. But it was not until the number rose to 6.3% that the city finally acknowledged the situation as an“elevated” public health concern. By then, an estimated 9,000 children under the age of 6 had been poisoned by lead and were at risk of irreparable brain damage.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) began collecting childhood blood lead surveillance data in April 1995, but only 35 state and local health departments (RI is one) are funded to report data. Reporting is voluntary in other states. Disturbingly, Michigan WAS one of the funded states. Their reports did not save their children.

We need to learn how to protect ourselves.

Let’s start with housing. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-based paint. Homes built before 1978 should be tested. A paint inspection will tell you the lead content of every painted surface in your home. A risk assessment will find any sources of serious lead exposure and advise you how to address the hazards. Don’t try this yourself! Without appropriate safety equipment and protective clothing, you risk further contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency provides advice and links to professionals in your area at

Lead can enter the drinking water in your house through plumbing materials, especially where the water has corrosive acidity. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, but even “lead-free” plumbing in newer home may contain up to 8% lead. You can buy water testing kits in home improvement stores; the EPA recommends sending samples to a certified laboratory for analysis. Even if your water is safe, always flush your pipes before drinking to minimize mineral residue, and only use cold water for cooking. Is your water safe for bathing? In theory, lead won’t be absorbed through your skin unless you have scrapes, cuts or rashes, but it can be absorbed through mucous membranes. And who hasn’t watched a toddler drink bath water? If lead in shower or bath water is a concern, shower head filters are available.

The FDA has been recommending since 1993 that anyone with a compromised immune system or undergoing chemotherapy drink only purified water. The CBS news link at lists Consumer Report’s top rated home water filters. But the best way to be sure that nearly all contaminants, both metal and organic, are removed from water, is with a distiller. I recommend WaterWise, but you can shop a huge selection on Amazon. Word of warning — distillers really drive up your electric bill, so figure that into your total cost. And keep in mind that distillers won’t remove pesticides and solvents that boil at or just below water’s boiling point. If this is a concern for you, put your distilled water through a carbon filter.

Lead can lurk within the prettiest of painted toys, furniture, painted pottery and play jewelry. Prized heirlooms such as lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery can leach toxins into food or liquid. If you thought that those ultra expensive cremes and make up at chic department stores were safe, think again. In 2016 the FDA had to issue a draft guidance to the cosmetics industry recommending that cosmetic products not contain more than 10 ppm lead as an impurity. An astonishing number of consumer products are laced with lead, including candy and candy wrappers, meats, produce and milk. Why? Some foods are from 3rd world countries where regulations are not strictly enforced, but even countries with stricter guidelines cannot ensure purity. Lead is in food because it is in the environment. The FDA can’t eliminate it from the food supply; all they can do is try to keep our exposure to a minimum.

So, do what you can to protect yourself. Watch for environmental hazards. Older playground equipment is a source of lead exposure, as are artificial turf and playground surfaces made from shredded rubber. Check the condition of schools, work places, playgrounds and parks. If paint is peeling or cracked inside or out of buildings, both the interior and any nearby exteriors can be affected. Ditto with any close proximity to highways with heavy traffic; cars and trucks generate lead that travels far beyond the pavement. Handy tip: Keeping dust under control with a damp rag and mopping floors limits the possibility that environmental lead will drift in and gather. Keep rugs well vacuumed with a HEPA vacuum. Have people remove shoes and leave them by the door to prevent tracking of environmental lead throughout the house.

Rhode Island law says that healthcare providers must perform two lead screenings before a child turns 3 and recommends annual screenings until the age of 6. Please make sure your children are screened through a simple blood test. High lead levels often have no symptoms, but can cause permanent damage.

For lead content listings on children’s products from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, visit–Manufacturing/Business-Education/Lead/Total-Lead-Content














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