Chances Are, You Had Toxic Lead Levels as a Kid
The startling data comes from a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
I have always been darkly fascinated by lead. As a nephrologist, I would occasionally come across a case of what we still call saturnine gout — gout due to lead toxicity — in the occasional moonshiner, a result of distilling alcohol in old, lead-lined car radiators.
It was the Romans, of course, who associated lead with Saturn — those with too much lead exposure were thought to exhibit the characteristics of the God — dark, somber, slow.
In fact, in contrast to the popular conception that the Romans poisoned their empire to death through lead piping and plates, it seems fairly clear that they were aware of its potential toxicity. Vitruvius argued for the use of terracotta pipes, instead of lead ones, in the first century BC.
Of course, sometimes it seems that we haven’t learned much since then, as the Flint water crisis reminds us.
And now this paper, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the impact of lead exposure will continue long, long into the future.
In fact, this paper suggests that the use of leaded gasoline from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s may have been one of the greatest public health tragedies in any of our lifetimes.
Lead harms the developing brain.
This is not a controversial statement. Many studies, in both animals and humans, have demonstrated lead’s effect on neuronal function. Lead acts like a divalent cation — like magnesium or calcium. With transporters on virtually every cell of the body, lead can easily pass through the blood–brain barrier.
OK, how much lead has the U.S. population been exposed to? Let’s walk through the startling data.
If you want to estimate childhood lead exposure of everyone alive today, you are going to run into a problem. The CDC has only been systematically measuring blood levels in a representative…