US Researchers Document 84% Drop In Childrens' Blood Lead Levels - There's Regulatory Work Left To Finish The Job
Old leaded gasoline pump.
Image credit:flickr,ISI Photo, excerpted from the image: "Mmmm leaded gas is good for the environment".
The Billings Gazette covered a recent report from Centers for Disease Control (CDC) researchers, documenting that "just 1.4 percent of young children had elevated lead levels in their blood in 2004, the latest data available. That compares with almost 9 percent in 1988." Highest US childhood lead exposures were leaded gasoline and lead-based paint, both of which were phased out of commercial use, and/or mitigated, since the mid-1970's. (Europe and other developed nations began their leaded gas and paint phase outs much later - the data, therefore, may not reflect non-US childhood blood level trends.)Although the stereotype has long been that high lead exposures were primarily inner-city, or race, or ethnicity related, those ideas are not valid, according to the source. All US children are at potentially at risk.
By 2004, racial disparities among children with blood-lead levels higher than 10 micrograms had mostly disappeared: About equal numbers of white, black and Mexican-American children had levels in that rangePer the CDC, remaining childhood lead exposure vectors of significance include the following. Note: Order does not denote rank importance. Bulleted items listed below which have a check mark "✓" at the bullet point can be managed by either the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
• Contaminated water. Even when potable water leaves the plant in relatively pure condition, lead can be added from "wiped" lead plumbing connections, and lead street-to-home water supply lines, typically installed before 1950. (Here, the inner city stereotype does hold some water.) Lead in drinking water can originate, also, from lead soldered copper pipe , or from brass fixtures, or valve seats incorporating lead.
• ✓ Imported toys and toy jewelry. (Lately, the focus has been on lead paint applied to Chinese-made imports.)
• ✓ Traditional home health remedies such as azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion in the Hispanic community.
• ✓ Imported candies
• ✓ Imported cosmetics
• ✓ Pottery and Ceramics made with lead glazes.
• ✓ Chinese-made tea kettles and vinyl mini-blinds
Typically insignificant lead exposures.
• Fortunately, children of consumers generally do not dissemble electronic equipment and chew on chinese-made vinyl parts or vinyl coated wire. Fussing over a bit of vinyl in a hand-held is an activist obscession we can skip. (This statement does not apply, however, to the end-of-life phase of electronic products. Children in developing countries do become exposed to lead from e-Waste, with current management practices.)
• Same for the risk of eating game shot with lead bb's. CDC has established that this is an insignificant exposure in the USA.
Lead exposures potentials that are not listed as significant by the CDC but which all Federal and some state agencies are concerned with.
• Controlled "incineration" or open combustion of any chinese-made vinyl, which is generally going to have been made with lead stabilizer compounds at high weight concentration.
• Stack emissions from coal-fired boilers.
• Coal fly-ash.
What does it all mean for the future?
The other, non-checked, exposures listed are currently outside the respective jursidiction(s) of FDA or CPSC, and must instead by controlled by USEPA or the equivalent state environmental agencies.
Exposure reductions most significant to the 84% gains documented by CDC were:-banning of leaded gasoline; and, lead-based paint. Both these historically high exposures came from things ubiquitous to western culture: cars, trucks, and paint.
Look at the list, again, for other potentially ubiquitous lead exposure sources that may have to be managed in the future. What is the commonality?
Answer: Combustion residue.
After all those years and all this great progress in protecting our children, much of the progress will have been wasted until, and unless, we close the gap on the remaining, potentially significant, childhood lead exposures. (Yes...this is a defensible statement, given that a no-effect level for blood lead has not been firmly established.)
Much of the responsibility to slog on with lead exposure reduction falls now on the shoulders of the US-EPA, which is about to receive a budget and morale transfusion, having been nearly sucked dry of them for well over a decade by de-regulatory vampires who cared less for the children than for an ideological proof.
Responsibility for the other exposures will likelyfall to FDA and CPSC, and/or to whatever reorganized regulatory body(s) assume primacy for the check marked items.
Additional posts on lead exposure.
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Ask TreeHugger: How Do I Test My Toys for Lead?
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