Lead: A ghost of the past, still haunting us today

KNOW THIS: Lead is still a health risk, especially for women and children

WHY? It’s found in most houses built pre-1970, as well as old toys

WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT? Take precautions to reduce your lead intake


I thought lead poisoning was a problem of the past, but apparently not! I accidently stumbled across the dangers while reading a blog post on how to sand wooden floors. The article said that if your house was built pre-1970 you’ll need to test any paint on original floorboards as it’s likely to contain lead. This freaked me out as I’d been decorating my Victorian flat for two years and had no idea that old paint could contain lead.

I was sure I’d already ingested a load of toxic dust when I completely reshaped the kitchen, or when I stripped the wallpaper and sanded down the old paint, so I wanted to read up about a) what potential health issues this could cause me, and b) how I can reduce my lead intake going forward.

The main concern with everyday lead intoxication (rather than severe lead poisoning, which is usually work related) is for children and women. Once lead enters the body, it is distributed to the brain, kidneys, liver and bones and can cause increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. The body stores lead in the teeth and bones where it accumulates over time, and during pregnancy the lead can be released into the bloodstream and harm the foetus.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain resulting in reduced IQ, reduced attention span and increased antisocial behaviour.

As well as old paint, pre-1970s houses may also have lead pipes supplying drinking water. But pipes are also a problem for very new houses as some plumbers still use lead solder to join copper pipes, which exposes the water directly to lead.

There is no known safe blood lead concentration, but as lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increases. Even low blood lead concentrations of 5 µg/dL – once thought to be a “safe level”, could be linked to decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties, and learning problems according a World Health Organisation factsheet.

What you can do to if you’re worried about your lead exposure (especially if you have young children):

Test your home for lead. If you are renovating a home built before 1978, think before you undergo any renovations. Never scrape or sand paint without precautions, as you’ll send lead dust throughout your home. Ideally have your home tested for lead by a trained professional, or buy a home test kit.

Don’t track lead in from outside. Soil can contain lead, so take off your shoes as you enter the house.

Install an under-sink water filter 10%-20% of childhood lead poisoning is caused by contaminated drinking water, so install a filter that has been proven to remove lead by an independent testing organisation, like NSF. I use a 5 stage reverse osmosis system at home and have a Zero Water filter jug at work.

Keep your home clean. Try to control dust in your house. Regularly wipe it up with a wet sponge or rag, especially in areas where friction might create dust from paint, like drawers, windows, and doors.

Consume Chlorella and Cilantro. This combination is said to help remove lead from the body. Cilantro is a highly effective metal toxin binding agent and mobiliser, however, it’s not so good at actually flushing the toxins out. But Chlorella can grab the mobilised heavy metal toxins and bind them to the bile found in the liver. And as cilantro helps the liver to release bile, this process will begin to carry the toxins out of the body as waste.

Eat garlic. A Bulgarian study published in 1960 found that workers at a car battery plant who took garlic extract three times a day for four weeks saw a significant decrease in their blood lead levels. A big part of garlic’s lead removal secret is sulphur that oxidises heavy metals such as lead, making them water soluble, so that they’re easy to pass. Other sulphur-rich foods include onions, eggs, and cruciferous veggies such as Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.

Take charcoal supplements. If you think you could be ingesting lead though water or dust, activated charcoal can be used to bind the lead in the gastrointestinal tract so it can be passed with stools.

And if you have kids…

Keep your child’s hands clean. Many children who get lead poisoning transfer lead from their hands to their mouths. Get in the habit of washing your child’s hands frequently.

Be wary of toys. Don’t let your child play with old painted toys or cheap plastic toys – like those from vending machines as the plastic can contain lead. If you notice that your child is putting a toy in their mouth frequently and you’re not absolutely sure it’s lead-free, take it away, and remove any toy with chipped paint.

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