LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 9 no 3, June 2009, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Book Review

“Lead Babies” by Joanna Cerazy and Sandra Cottingham, published by Kunati Inc, (USA and Canada), May 2009. Available online at www.nomoreleadbabies.com and Amazon etc.

Review by Anne Roberts,
The LEAD Group Inc.

I am not a lead sceptic, but before reading this book was inclined to think of lead campaigners as seeing - to slightly misquote the Duke in Shakespeare’s As You Like It - “Books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and lead in everything.”

Well, apparently lead is in everything, just about.

In Chapter 2 and Appendix 2, the authors list possible sources of lead – such extensive lists as to make exposure to lead seem virtually unavoidable.

However, the message of the book is that lead damage is preventable:

“Nowadays, no one needs to be exposed to lead and to suffer its harmful effects. Our children can be protected from the cycle of damage caused by lead. What you have learned in this book will empower you to take action.” (p135)

Cerazy and Cottingham use various “scenarios” to bring to life the effects of lead on the various stages of a child’s development, from pre-natal to teenager, beginning with the story of “Sandy and Craig Miller,” who have been renovating a 1925-built house, and are now expecting their first child. Almost everything the couple does unwittingly exposes them, and the unborn child, to lead.

There follows an outline of the first, second and third trimesters of foetal development; and, in more detail, conception, and weeks three, four, five and twelve, outlining the critical changes that are taking place.

“We know that toxic exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy interferes with the migration and organization of brain cells, and that any insult at this stage of development affects future brain development stages. Where it was previously supposed that with so little of a human formed, little damage could be done, the reverse has been discovered to be true. A foundation with damage will not support what is built on top of it.” (p20)

Under the heading “Present Versus Past Exposure,” the authors explain that “In pregnancy, the fetus gathers materials it needs to build bone structure from the mother’s bones. Lead from the maternal skeleton is transferred across the placenta to the fetus. Later, additional lead exposure may occur during breast-feeding. A critical factor in how much lead reaches the unborn baby is the amount of lead that has accumulated in the mother’s bones over her lifetime.” (p26)

Chapter 3 continues the story of early childhood lead exposure, this time in toddlers, telling how “Bill and Jennifer Richardson’s” 2-year old daughter “Molly” has changed from a delightful child into one who is hyperactive and difficult to manage. One pair of dotty grandparents has even brought along an heirloom leaded pewter cup as a birthday present for Molly, and gives her a drink out of it.

There follow classroom scenarios, with children who attend “Jackson Elementary School”: “Marcus,” 11 years’ old and autistic, “Bill” and other children, who have learning difficulties.

Finally, there is the story of “Scott”, who has a very low IQ and is skipping school and engaging in petty theft. He is also continuing to be exposed to lead in the one thing he is good at and enjoys: classes which in the US are called “shop” – in this case, learning how to maintain and repair motor vehicles.

The scenarios may strike Australian readers as a little, umm, smaltzy, but they do give a human context to the medical/scientific facts of the very serious and potentially lifetime consequences of prenatal and early childhood exposure to lead. The stories indicate how easy it is for a child to become exposed to lead, even in the best-intentioned or materially well-off families.

In the section on toddlers (“Molly”) we are reminded that “Children are not small versions of adults,” and how this magnifies the effect of what may seem to be very slight exposure to lead.

Not only do children have a larger skin surface in proportion to their body volume, they also, in comparison with adults, “drink more fluids, eat more food, breathe more air relative to their body volume.” (p66) They also absorb lead via the gastrointestinal tract more efficiently than adults (50% relative absorption, compared with adults’ 15% absorption.) (p66) The diagram on page 59 illustrates that “children and adults do not experience the effects of lead equally. Children are impacted earlier and more severely than adults.”

With older children and teenagers (”Scott”), “Mounting evidence has been amassed over recent decades from the fields of behaviour, neuropsychology and biology that confirms that the brain dysfunction caused by early, low-level exposure to lead results in the specific brain dysfunction that is associated with the behaviour we find with ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder], delinquency and violence. The change in understanding between what was previously accepted and what is now known is in the area of exposure threshold for damage. It was previously assumed that only high levels of exposure caused damage, and regulations were set accordingly. The more recent realization that neurotoxic effects occur at even the lowest levels of exposure, and that they can occur before a baby is born, has offered new, if not shocking insight into a long list of trends related to behaviour, including school drop-out, delinquency, drug use and violent crime.” (p76)

Use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has revealed that “the reduction in the amount of pre-frontal [lobe] gray matter – a loss of brain neurons observable in the brains of lead-exposed children – is the same as in adults with antisocial personality disorder such as is common in prison populations” [where prisoners are in jail for reasons other than politics, that is].

“The tendency to be “deceitful, reckless, impulsive, irresponsible and lacking in remorse and empathy” is symptomatic of a toxic brain injury, despite the fact that many are heavily invested in the theory that poverty, poor parenting, or negative social influences are to blame.” (p77)

The authors challenge standard preconceptions about the cause of antisocial and criminal behaviour (“Scott is not the result of bad parenting, a low socio-economic status or bad traits genetically inherited”) (p87). They ask why there is “a disproportionate representation of high school drop-outs, prisoners and the poor amongst African Americans?” (p78). Could there be a connection with the lactose intolerance which is very common in African Americans and is the main cause for them avoiding milk products.”

“In the US, African Americans get less than half the daily recommended amount of calcium. Calcium deficiency is a “critical factor in lead susceptibility.” (p78)

 A possible connection between lead and addiction to drugs and alcohol is being uncovered which warrants further, long-term research.

“Early and in utero lead exposure, even at very low doses, is known to cause damage to the prefrontal lobes. Research confirms that frontal lobe dysfunction is a risk factor and important predictor for alcohol abuse. Even slight impairment to cognitive ability and language skills has been shown to increase [the] risk…” (p81) Some adult cocaine users have reported “first starting using cocaine as a way of self-medicating symptoms of ADHD.” (p81)

The effects of lead on the brain don’t end with childhood: “Ongoing lead exposure throughout one’s life has the unfortunate effect of diminishing one’s intelligence.” (p90)

Chapter 6 suggests the possibility that autism may be the outcome of lead “potentiating” with mercury. (“Potentiation” is when the synergistic action of two drugs is greater than the sum of the effects of each when taken on its own.) The authors ask “Would it be outrageous to suppose that when lead potentiates with mercury in the system of a child, the effect is autism?” (p96)

(Which is not to say that without mercury there would be no autism.) The authors suggest the increasing levels of mercury “making its way into the developing brains of babies, both born and in utero, in a way that parallels the saga of lead,” may explain the increase in autism in every continent in the world since the early 1980s. (p94) The remainder of Chapter 6 traces the history of use of mercury in some vaccines and in dental fillings.

The symptoms of mercury poisoning are virtually the same as the list of symptoms of autism. “The factor of potentiation makes it at least plausible that mercury, when combined with lead, causes autism; that autism is the brain’s response to being hit not with a single toxic metal, but with the additional cumulative insult of a second and possibly others in a window of vulnerability and susceptibility that is not repeated in the human life cycle.” (p109)

Chapter 7 discusses the effect of lead on fertility, Chapter 8, Lead and other toxins – “partners in harm”, Chapter 9 gives detailed information on how to reduce or prevent exposure to lead: what foods are protective, how to prepare food to avoid lead contamination, what sort of eating utensils to avoid, foods to avoid, foods to minimise… what to avoid in products designed for use by children…personal hygiene, housekeeping, avoiding lead contamination due to occupation or hobbies, how to make outdoor areas around the house safe from lead, and what is the most dangerous thing about renovations, from the point of view of lead.

Chapter 10 gives a three-step inventory of making one’s personal environment (house and surrounds) safe, and discusses tests for the presence of lead. Most of the tests mentioned are only available, for people outside the USA, by online purchase although The LEAD Group’s DIY-sampling kit can be used to send any type of sample to a lab for lead analysis and includes an interpretation sheet.

Chapter 11 is about getting the lead out of one’s body. The authors say medical supervision is imperative, but this seems to apply only to removal that is “too invasive or aggressive.” (p 99) “Just as there are risks in leaving lead in the body, there are risks with removing it. These are concerns that you will need to discuss with your doctor.” (p159)

It does appear, on my reading, that the herbal, as opposed to “mainstream” methods are a lot more agreeable and have other health benefits. (However, take a look at Appendix 3, which lists the lead content of traditional remedies and cosmetics reported to contain lead!)

“Herbal” versus “mainstream” treatment is a subject which I think requires more detailed discussion than to be obtained here.

Appendix 1 gives a chronology of the use of lead in the world.

Appendix 2 lists possible sources of lead (in addition to the discussion in Chapter 2). Another comprehensive list can be found at www.lead.org.au/lasn/lasn006.html but the two lists are complementary and a useful comparison can be made between them.

Summing up: an interesting, easy-to-read, informative book, with 146 references to research papers, and a good, straightforward index. The cover – an alert infant making eye-contact with the potential reader- is, considering the subject, perhaps misleading. On the other hand, depicting anything else would be distasteful and off-putting. The cover does accord with the optimism of the authors that lead poisoning can be prevented.

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