How to Prevent Lead Poisoning
DESPITE all the bad news about lead poisoning, the picture is not entirely gloomy. Unlike so many of the diseases over which we have no control, this is one health threat about which health officials say we can actually do something.
“Lead poisoning is entirely preventable,” Newsweek reports the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services as saying. The risk of lead toxicity “could be wiped out forever,” declared one noted university toxicologist. “Enough is now known about the sources and pathways of lead exposure and about ways of preventing this exposure to begin the efforts to eradicate permanently this disease,” notes the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control). And finally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services adds its opinion: “We understand the causes of childhood lead poisoning and, most importantly, how to eliminate them. A concerted societal effort could virtually eliminate this disease in 20 years.”
What You Can Do
How can this be accomplished? To begin with, experts agree that paint and water are the primary targets. For example, the toxicologist mentioned above contends that a prime requisite for eliminating lead toxicity is for homeowners and landlords to take aggressive steps to replace old paint and plumbing. Homeowners, therefore, might want to determine if their homes are safe from contamination.
“But don’t panic,” writes the magazine In Health. “Intact paint isn’t a danger, though peeling paint and paint dust are. . . . Check your home inside and out for peeling, looking especially around wooden door and window frames, where weather and friction tend to grind and chip painted surfaces.” Your national or state health department may be able to assist you in determining if your home is at risk, perhaps directing you to laboratories trained in lead inspection and removal. A word of caution: Do not attempt removal yourself. Children may be lead poisoned when their parents scrape and sand old paint from walls and trim, filling the air with lead-laden dust.
Water, Water Everywhere
For households in which water is the culprit, the problem may originate in the pipes that link the house to the water main. An old house may contain lead pipes, an obvious source of contamination. Even copper or steel pipes may be joined with lead solder. In some countries it may be helpful to check building codes to learn about the plumbing standards in your area. If you have reason to believe that your water is contaminated, you may decide to have it checked. In most countries there are laboratories equipped to do this for a reasonable fee.
What if your water has an unsafe level of lead? What can you do about it? After all, not everyone may be able to take drastic action, such as overhauling the plumbing. Health officials offer a few simple procedures to reduce the lead level. Before you draw water from the tap, allow the cold water to run for a minute or two, especially if the tap has been turned off for more than six hours. This will help flush out any contaminated water. And never use hot tap water for drinking and cooking. There will likely be more lead in hot tap water than in cold tap water.
If you drink from school, office, or factory electric fountains, the water should be allowed to run for a few seconds before each use. Some fountains contain tubing joined by lead solder.
Lead in Food and Drink
America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has offered recommendations on the use of lead crystal glassware. Good Housekeeping magazine reported: “While no one is suggesting that you stop using it completely, the FDA suggests avoiding the use of lead crystalware to store foods and beverages for extended periods of time, especially when storing acidic foods (tomato sauce; orange, tomato, and other fruit juices; wine; and vinegar) . . . The FDA also recommends that infants and children never be fed from lead crystal baby bottles . . . or any other lead crystalware.”
What about those wine bottles enclosed at the top with lead foil? Some health experts recommend removing the foil completely and, after pulling the cork, moistening a cloth with a few drops of wine and then wiping the rim of the bottle with it.
Mothers and housewives, do you routinely reuse plastic bread bags for food storage? Researchers have detected high levels of lead in the ink used to print the bags, which can leach into other foods. The lead does not migrate through plastic and contaminate the bread inside; however, when a consumer turns the bag inside out, the leaded ink can cause contamination. If the bag is reused, make sure the print never comes in contact with the food.
Finally, Discover magazine offers these words of caution: “Overseas travelers, especially in Third World countries, should beware of ceramic dinnerware; its lead glaze may not be fired at the high temperatures required to prevent chipping, flaking, and leaching of lead particles into food.”
Keep Your Balance
One important guideline to remember when considering this or almost any of today’s disturbing environmental problems: Keep your balance. It is all too easy to panic, and panic never helps. The sad fact is that our environment is contaminated with countless pollutants besides lead. To live a life relatively free from contamination, we would probably have to move somewhere extremely remote. But who wants to live as a recluse just to avoid pollution? The only balanced approach to such problems is to take whatever reasonable precautions are necessary to protect ourselves and our children from serious danger. Full protection from man’s misuse of this earth’s resources must come later.
And come it will! Did you know that the Creator of this planet promises a time when mankind will expend effort on converting it into a paradise? No more will man spread deadly pollution and contamination anywhere. Isaiah 11:9 adds this promise: “They [mankind] will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.” No doubt that “knowledge of Jehovah” will include an understanding of how to use this planet’s vast resources in a way that does no harm to children or to adults—to anyone at all.