Lead exposure is almost inevitable. The problem is that too much exposure to lead can lead to learning disabilities, hyperactivity, difficulty with focus and attention, and if a large enough exposure occurs, muscle weakness and abdominal pain.
The challenge is that lead won’t be shed by the body naturally, so if levels in the blood get too high chelation is the only approach that works.
When I was a resident, lead levels up to 15 were deemed OK, but we’ve learned more over time and as a result the acceptable levels have slowly declined. Now the acceptable level is a mere 5. Children with blood lead levels of 5 or more need to have their houses assessed and likely need some lead abatement plan activated.
Houses built before 1978 (when lead paints were outlawed), houses near freeways where car exhaust containing lead causes higher levels of lead particles in the air, children whose parents work in lead-related industries, and even some toys and ceramic goods contain lead – all of these things can put children at risk for lead poisoning.
All children in Michigan should be screened for lead poisoning by age 2. A questionnaire can be used in low-risk areas to discern if a blood test needs to be done but in general, the houses in Michigan are of older stock and may contain lead pipes and as such we test all children in our office for lead poisoning. To be honest, we very rarely have a child with a lead level of 5 or above, but if we miss it the consequences are serious.
I’m glad that the acceptable levels have been lowered. With all the problems lead poisoning can cause, abatement should be inititated at low levels to minimize ongoing exposure. Since lead isn’t removed naturally from the body, the best approach is to reduce exposure and to get help if blood levels are even slightly elevated. To achieve that end is a good thing.