Thursday, July 27, 2017

Does Your Baby's Food Contain Lead?

Many of you may start your day by going to the grocery store.  If you have an infant you’re shopping for you may head to the baby food section where you place fruit juice, Gerber Lil’ Entrees and applesauce pouches in the cart for your youngsters. You check the back label for the nutrition facts to ensure none of what you’re buying is too high in sugar or sodium. However, there is one ingredient not found on the label. Here’s a hint: its symbol on the periodic table is Pb and it used to be found in wooden pencils you used as a kid.  You guessed it, lead.

As you probably know, babies and young children are especially at risk for experiencing the effects from exposure. There is no safe level of lead exposure and kids, partly due to their teething behaviors and their having a much higher absorption rate for lead than adults. A recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found out of 57 types of food designated by the FDA as baby food in the study, lead was in one or more of the 52 samples. Some of the most contaminated foods included the following: Fruit juice, root vegetables, and teething biscuits. 

It should be noted that lead exposure cannot be 100% eliminated because of lead is naturally occurring and would be impossible to pinpoint its exact source for every bit of produced food, and none of the aforementioned samples contained levels above FDA recommendations. However, here is a list of some of the important places to keep a look out for:

Soil: You see lots of it on a daily basis. From your backyard to your home garden, soil is everywhere. If you choose to grow your own foods, it is important to keep in mind that highly industrial areas are at a higher risk due to auto emissions. Vegetables do not readily absorb lead, which means the risk of lead poisoning from this source is low and children are more likely to become poisoned by consuming the soil directly. However, root vegetables—carrots and lettuce—as noted above are known to contain higher lead concentrations if the soil exceeds 300 ppm. Concerned your soil might be contaminated? Check here.

Food Containers: According to Consumer Reports, pesticides and chemicals are concentrated in processed baby foods. Contact the companies behind your favorite brands to learn about their processing and how much lead they allow in their products (click here and here). Additionally, you should be careful of the types of containers you store your food in. Older china dishes and some imported food containers may contain traces of lead, though the risk of exposure is very low. Learn about FDA regulations for imported foods here as well as here.

Water: As you are aware, lead from pipes can leak into your water source. If you are giving your child formula, keep in mind contaminated tap water can put your child at risk because of the high amounts of water they are consuming. Private wells older than 20 years old can also be a source of lead.  Lead service lines to your home and your own faucets and fixture are the primary sources of lead that may be in your water.  The EPA provides tips to ensure the water that makes it into your home is safe for you and your little one(s) to consume. If you are breastfeeding, follow these recommendations for water consumption to reduce the risk of lead transfer to your child(ren).

Keeping your child(ren) safe is the number one priority for parents and caregivers. If you are concerned about lead levels in your home or the food you are buying, don’t hesitate to reach out to companies and/or your local health department for more information.                                                                                            

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Many Children Left Untested For Lead

Since the Flint water crisis made its way into national headlines, lead screening and testing has become of high concern, especially testing among young children who, as you know, are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. You’ve heard about the symptoms—hyperactivity, decreased IQ, insomnia, fatigue—the list goes on.

Yet, despite this increased concern, a study conducted by the Public Health Institute of California Assessing Child Lead Poisoning Case Ascertainment in the United States between 1999 and 2010 found that in some places nearly 80% of poisoned children were unidentified. Nationally, 607,000/944,000 (64%) cases were reported to the CDC. This means the other 36% of children went undetected, with many of the reported coming from areas in the Midwest and Northeast. Not good with percentages? Here is a graphic to help. Also, according to another study conducted by Reuters, cities in some states like Wisconsin and Missouri had a poisoning rate higher than that of Flint’s.

What Accounts For The Number of Children Going Untested?
To help wrap our heads around this issue, here is a list, though not an extensive one, to help answer this questions (for more information, you can take a look here and here).

  • Low-income children covered by Medicaid are required to be tested, but research has shown compliance with such a requirement is low. As of April of this year according to the Michigan Medicaid Blood Lead Testing Report, statewide, 66% of children are tested at or on their 2nd birthday and 74% for 3 year olds. Take a look at the full report.

  • Outside of Medicaid, there are few—if any—state recommendations for blood lead testing made available to parents (Arkansas, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming). This creates confusion and leaves parents—like some of you—with many unanswered questions. How are you to know when, how, or where to get your child(ren) tested if such information is not accessible to you? 

  • States also use confusing terminology within their guidelines that makes it difficult for even medical professionals to know when testing a child is required. Put it simply, the wording is confusing. Some words gives the impression that testing should take place, while others use words like shall make it clear testing is mandatory.

  • Only 10 states plus the District of Columbia requires universal screening. With most of these states require testing for children between the ages of 1 and 2. Michigan is not one of them.

  • Some of those states with universal screening have differing requirements. Age at which testing takes place, areas where testing is required, and the number of times a child is tested are some of these differing requirements.

Should your child or grandchild be tested for lead?

A good place to start is by educating yourself and talking with your pediatrician. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lead Exposure in Workplace


With the Flint lead water crisis, lead poisoning has become a trending topic of discussion. While children have a higher risk exposure from lead, according to the Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) program, ninety-four percent of adults with elevated blood lead levels (BLL) are exposed through the workplace.
Primary lead exposures are occupational and occur in lead related industries such as refining, lead smelting, and manufacturing. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are 14 lead producing plants, which accounts for ninety-nine percent of U.S. secondary production. Other areas of exposure include home renovations (a frequent source of exposure), car repairs, electronic soldering, molding of bullets, fishing sinkers, and glass or metal soldering. Workers are exposed to lead through inhaling lead dusts and lead oxide fumes, as well as through eating and drinking near lead contaminated areas.
            Ingestion of lead can cause irreversible health damage. BLL of more than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (>10 µg/dL) is considered high. The National Toxicology program concludes that there is sufficient evidence of adverse health effects with BLL of <10 µg/dL. Adverse health effects include a wide range of health issues, from neurological to renal. Health effects include increased blood pressure, increased risk of hypertension, and increased evidence of essential tremor. Individuals with BLL of <5 µg/dL showed decreased glomerular filtration rate, reduced fetal growth in women, and adverse changes in sperm parameters and increased time to pregnancy.
            Lead poisoning is preventable through many different ways, such as avoiding carrying lead home on clothes, cleaning exhaust ventilations, wearing personal protective equipment, and through improved lead safety practice. 

Written by: Sweeta Jura 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Four overlooked issues for National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

(This post originally appeared on Michigan Distilled.)

This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which aims to raise awareness to reduce childhood exposure to lead.

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, Michiganders may be more aware of the hazards of lead than ever before. Still, we’ve got a lot of work to do. In 2014, more than 5,000 children in Michigan had blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter. That’s the level at which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends public health action to protect children, but the CDC says there is no safe level of exposure to lead. The true number of lead-afflicted children in Michigan is likely much higher, since only 20 percent of children under six years old were tested in 2014.

We’ve written quite a lot here about lead poisoning in Michigan and our work to make it a thing of the past. You can find useful background here, here and here.

Since we’ve covered the basics in previous posts, we thought we’d mark this prevention week by highlighting some lead-related issues that don’t get much attention:

Don’t get tricked by toxic treats.


With Halloween coming up next week, it’s good to be aware of a largely overlooked source of lead exposure: imported candy. The Food and Drug Administration says children and pregnant women should not eat candy imported from Mexico, which may be contaminated by lead in wrappers or through improper manufacturing practices. Candy from China, the Philippines and other countries may also contain trace amounts of lead. The federal government reports that, in California, 15 percent of childhood lead poisoning cases can be traced to tainted candy.

We don’t want to needlessly stoke fears. Halloween is fun, and you’ve got enough to worry about it. Just stick to candy produced in the U.S.

We need more cleanup contractors.


Michigan has a long way to go in cleaning up lead from homes built before 1978, when lead-based paint was outlawed. The Ecology Center recently reported that a $600 million investment to remove lead hazards from the state’s 100,000 most at-risk homes would reduce childhood lead poisoning by 70 percent and, by a conservative estimate, pay for itself in just over three years.

A major hurdle in lead abatement efforts, however, is our shortage of cleanup contractors. Michigan law requires anyone doing lead abatement work to be certified by the state Department of Health and Human Services. Because not enough contractors are certified, Michigan families face longer delays and prolonged risk of lead exposure for children.

To help speed things along, the state—for a limited time—is providing $650 stipends to contractors who sign up to get certified. In exchange, applicants must provide a co-pay of $50 and agree to bid annually on abatement jobs in Flint over the next five years. Funding is limited, so if you are interested in getting your company certified, the time is now! More information is available here or by calling 517-284-4810.

Lead poisoning is a problem for adults, too.

As this Holland Sentinel story notes, Michigan has inadequate protections for people who work around lead, such as in some manufacturing jobs. And those workers can also put their children at risk of lead poisoning by bringing it home on their clothing and shoes. In Michigan, more than a third of children whose parents have elevated blood lead levels likewise test positive.

As MEC’s Tina Reynolds said in the Sentinel story, “If we’re looking at eliminating lead in this state, we have to look at everyone…The tendency is to look at the smoking gun and be done, but there’s much more to this…If we don’t take a comprehensive approach and look at lead in adults, then we are ignoring them as well as their children.”

Hunters, you have non-toxic options.

It’s hard to beat autumn in the north woods. I went upland bird hunting in northern Michigan last weekend, I’m doing the same next weekend, and I’m getting prepared for the upcoming firearm deer season. And this year, for the first time, I’m hunting lead-free.

Lead bullets can fragment into hundreds of tiny pieces when they hit an animal. That means hunters may be unintentionally feeding their children meat that is tainted with fragments too small to notice, but large enough to be serious cause for concern. Again, there is no safe level of lead exposure. Moreover, shooting introduces lead into the environment, where eagles, coyotes and other animals can easily ingest deadly or highly toxic levels. Lead poisoning is responsible for more than half of California condor deaths, making lead ammunition—which they ingest while scavenging—the top killer of the endangered birds.

There’s a common misperception among hunters that lead ammunition is the only effective option, and that alternatives are far more expensive. Years ago, those may have been valid arguments. Today, that dog won’t hunt; research shows little difference in price or performance between premium lead ammunition and nontoxic alternatives.

If you hunt, check out this site run by wildlife biologists who seek to provide their fellow hunters with accurate information and helpful tips on making the switch to lead-free ammunition.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lead Paint Abatement Training Dollars

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services currently has funding to train and certify new employees to perform lead-based paint abatement work. Firms receiving funds must agree to bid on lead abatement projects in Flint, Michigan. Find out more here.

Low Lead Levels in Children Negatively Affect Test Scores

A new study using data from Rhode Island’s lead-abatement program and repeated blood lead level tests finds that lead exposure among preschoolers can predict low reading scores in subsequent years.

https://news.brown.edu/articles/2016/10/lead

Monday, August 29, 2016






Lead Poisoning Isn’t Just Child’s Play – Adults Impacted Too


Most of the focus of the effects of lead poisoning has been directed towards children, and rightfully so. Children absorb a higher percentage of the lead they ingest into their system about 30-50% compared to 10% for adults. Additionally, the rapidly developing brains of children under six years of age are far more susceptible to lead.  Finally, playtime on the ground and mouthing behaviors put them in harms way in regards to lead exposure. All combined, the immediate effects of lead poisoning on children are far greater than the immediate effects on adults.
            However, low-level lead accumulation over a lifetime is something that is not often discussed but presents a risk. While the half-life of lead in the blood of adults is about one month, the lead that is retained in spongy bone has a half-life in the bone of about 90 days and the lead retained in compact bone has a half-life from 10 to 30 years. Therefore, someone does not need to be lead poisoned by a single point of exposure in their life. Someone can experience the negative effects of lead and even become lead poisoned simply by repeated exposure, accumulating lead in their bones over their life.
            While lead that has been built up in bones is continually moved out of the body, that mobilization of lead from bone into the blood system increases “during periods of pregnancy, lactation, menopause, physiologic stress, chronic disease, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, fractures, and advanced age, and is exacerbated by calcium deficiency,” according to a Medscape article titled “Pathophysiology and Etiology of Lead Toxicity.” Osteoporosis is also a situation that can lead to dangerous exposure to lead that has been accumulated in the body. As a result, it is possible to become lead poisoned even years after exposure to a source of lead.
            The effects of low-level lead accumulation on adults vary from person to person, but there is evidence of low-level lead accumulation leading to the following health problems later in life: elevated blood pressure, cardiovascular mortality, worsened cognitive performance, depression, anxiety, hearing loss, Parkinson’s disease, eye cataracts, tooth loss, and hyperuricemia (which leads to gout and, in extreme cases, kidney failure).
Also of interest is the effect that lead poisoning has on pregnant mothers and their children. There is evidence that for a mother who is lead poisoned during pregnancy, their child is two to three times more likely to develop schizophrenia. Lead that has been accumulated in the mother’s bones over time can lead to her poisoning from increased mobilization of lead stored in bones. Of course, this list is not comprehensive, so there may be other serious health issues that