Lead Poisoning Large and Small

With austerity politics in full bloom, governments at all levels are eliminating a wide range of activities. Most of these affect our health. For example, over the last two years the state of Massachusetts has eliminated funding for the prevention of lead poisoning. According to the Boston Globe, the US Congress is likely to eliminate these programs as well.

This is an illustration of economic insanity masquerading as financial responsibility.

The economics are clear: lead toxicity causes biological damage with costs that include medical treatment and lost productivity not to mention the shear misery of neurological and other impairments. A recent study found that medical costs to children poisoned by lead amounted to a lifetime cost $6 million while lost productivity due to neurological impairment from lead came to $51 billion. So cutting efforts to prevent lead poisoning are economically stupid and cruel and insane.

So it looks like we’re thrown on the tender mercies of the marketplace in protecting ourselves. It’s the age of laissez faire prevention and laissez faire health care and buyer beware.

But wait!

Is it really true that when the government abandons us we’re helpless to prevent the ravages of rampant environmental poisoning by toxic products and production processes? Let’s start over.

There is no safe dose of lead. Any exposure is toxic. Lead’s principal effects are on the nervous system. The most vulnerable are children and fetuses, although adults are not spared. We absorb lead principally through our lungs and gut: from what we breath, eat, and drink.

Many public health sources will advice you to “avoid lead” without telling you exactly what that means. A well-known source is lead-based paint on older buildings. A less well-known source is the cords for electric appliances and such things as Christmas lights. Ho, ho, ho! Yet others include solder in copper water pipes, toys, antiques, PVC products, lipstick, and ordinary dust.

So exposure is pervasive. Does that mean you’re at risk?


However, your liver has a lovely process for identifying and eliminating toxic metals such as lead—that is, until it’s overwhelmed. Then your body tries to tuck it away in places such as the intercellular space in your brain where it does considerable mischief. And if you’re a young body, lead gets caught up in the rapid turnover of growing tissues and wreaks other sorts of havoc.

How do you know whether your or your child’s body has been overwhelmed and is holding onto lead or other heavy metals? A hair analysis is a common, simple, non-invasive, and relatively reliable indicator.

No matter the test results, the first thing to do is avoid exposures. Unless you’re living next to a lead smelter, the greatest exposure is likely to be the buildings you work and live in and the furnishings that are in those buildings. But don’t forget personal items such as PVC-based products and personal care products.

Supporting your liver’s detoxification capacity is as important as avoiding exposures. That begins with a diet that has sulfur-containing amino acids. Protein from animal sources is by far the richest source. It also begins with a diet rich in anti-oxidants. And herbs such as milk thistle add additional support.

There is a variety of non-invasive methods that work to clear lead and other heavy metals. However, caution is required because pulling lead out of its hiding places in the body can make it available for reabsorption and renewed damage. For example, cilantro works well at pulling out lead, but you’ll need something such as chlorella to sweep it away so it isn’t reabsorbed.

The point here is not to provide you with a very sloppy tutorial on detoxification, but to emphasize that abandonment by the government does not mean that we are helpless in the face of toxic assaults. We can protect ourselves—and well beyond the small world of individual choice.

Recall that the place everybody starts is the elimination of exposures. That means mobilizing to take actions such as removing lead-using products from homes and offices. Government intervention and government money are potentially helpful but not necessary to do such things.

And government intervention also isn’t necessary to halt the production of lead-using products. It’s true that government, when it’s not an impediment to protection, can economize on coercing producers to act responsibly—among other reasons because government has the badges and guns. But we civilians have out own means of coercion.

Deficit hawks in both major political parties argue that public spending must be slashed in order to avoid burdening our children with our debt. In exchange, they’ll burden our children with lead poisoning. What it really means is that in exchange for saving the future trust funds for the children of the wealthy, the children of the poor, near poor, and soon to become poor will receive damaged health.

We aren’t helpless. At the small, medium, and large scale, we have the capacity to protect ourselves from the ravages of economically insane products and production practices.