Most of us are already familiar with lead toxicity, especially with the numerous lawsuits and media attention that have focused on the danger to children. In the not-too-distant past, leaded gasoline presented the greatest source of lead exposure. In 1968 alone, 500 million pounds of this metal were released into the atmosphere. Once federal guidelines were established in the 1970s, lead levels began to fall—by an astronomical 78 percent during the period from 1976 to 1991.
Other common sources of lead include soil, cans, paint, plaster, pipes, solder, newsprint, ceramic glaze, some herbal products, and even enclosed shooting ranges. Of particular concern today are herbal sources of lead contamination. Some herbs imported from China are not carefully checked before being placed on the market in this country, and some of these products may also contain mercury. American-made herbal products have not been implicated in this problem.
Strange as it may sound, indoor shooting ranges are a source of lead exposure. Lead bullets produce a vapor that can be absorbed through the lungs when discharged from a firearm. It is important to use only ranges that are well-ventilated. Jacketed ammunition will also further reduce your exposure to lead from bullets.
While most modern houses have PVC pipes, even modern faucets have lead-containing joints that can be a significant source of lead in drinking water. Remember, fluoridated water leaches even more lead from the pipes and faucets, greatly increasing your risk of lead poisoning from this source. Recall that one of the studies I mentioned in chapter four found that fluoridated cities have water lead levels twice as high as unfluoridated communities.
Our average lead intake ranges from 0.1 to greater than 2 mg a day. It is known that elevated levels of blood lead are associated with a high risk of stillbirth and miscarriage. When blood levels are greater than 30 ug/L/day, there is a greater risk to the health of the mother as well. Recently, levels as low as lOug/g were found to impair cognitive function in children. Studies are now being conducted to see if levels as low as 2.5 ug/g are also harmful to brain function. Combined with zinc, calcium, and selenium deficiencies, even low lead levels can be quite toxic, especially to the brain.
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