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  QUESTION: Can lead poisoning affect your brain and make you a slow learner in school? 24 May 2002, Illinois USA

my son had lead poisoning when he was 3 years old. I started him on vitamins high in iron and his level went down very fast and then we moved we were renting and the state came in and tested and just about everything that was painted contained lead the front porch was the worst. Anyhow the landlady can not have anyone else live there until its all gone and know one has lived there for 3 years. Now my main question is can having lead poisoning affect your brain and make you slow or a slow learner in school? My son is having problems and I'm trying to find out what's wrong. He's 8 years old now so please let me know. Thanks a lot.

ANSWER: 24 May 2002

Dear Madam,

Unfortunately the answer is yes, although there can also be other reasons why a child is a slow learner so it would be important to know how high your son's blood lead level was before you could assume that his learning behaviour was affected. Did he only have one blood lead test or did he have a series of tests in order to track that his blood lead level did at some point reach an acceptable level (as low as possible but certainly below 10 micrograms per decilitre = 10 g/dL)? If the purpose of your enquiries now is to consider legal action, you will need to obtain all his lead-related medical records, as well as school reports and medical assessments. It would be wise to have another blood lead test now to ensure that he is not still being exposed to lead but hopefully his blood lead level is low now. One useful test that can be performed on an eight year old to determine the extent of their lead exposure earlier on (if you do not have sufficient blood lead results from his pre-school years) is a lead assessment of his baby teeth when they fall out. It is best to test the top two front teeth but if these have already been lost, use the two teeth that are closest to the top two front teeth that are available for testing.

To find a lab to test the teeth for lead, see  Anomal Laboratories you could try the Lead Listing - (www.leadlisting.org site no longer exists. The Lead Listing was a nationwide [USA] service that provided information to the public on organizations and/or individuals who provide lead services. These services include lead-based paint (LBP) inspection and risk assessment (evaluation services), LBP abatement contracting (hazard control services), and other related LBP services such as laboratory services from laboratories accredited under the EPA National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program (NLLAP) and renovators trained in lead-safe practices (lead-trained renovators). see  www.hud.gov/)

On the Lead Listing site you could find your closest analysis lab and ask them if they also test lead in teeth. Keep trying until you find one that does. You could also phone the Lead Listing if the numbers are still available (703)3127837, for US callers 1-888-LEADLIST or 1-888-532-3547.

The tooth lead result, in conjunction with your son's blood lead results will give you a good idea as to whether his slow learning might be caused by lead.

Some parents at this point might want to consider having their child assessed to determine whether the child's lead is chelatable. The term "chelation" comes from the Latin word "claw" and it is a therapy used to remove or claw heavy metals out of the blood. You can read about the assessment and treatment involved on the Canadian website of our sister organisation The First Six Years (formerly known as Lead Environmental Awareness and Detection l.e.a.d.) - www.first6years.org/- but this assessment and treatment is regarded by the traditional medical fraternity as of debatable benefit and it is expensive.

If you decide to go to a doctor trained in chelation therapy, go to the website of The American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). ACAM is a medical society devoted to the education of medical professionals. Go to www.acam.org/ for the searchable list of doctors trained to administer chelation therapy.

You will probably be interested in ensuring that your child's learning needs are understood by his teachers so if you want to send us a postal address we could post you a copy of an excellent article by US educational psychologist Anne Winner called "The Early Lead Poisoned Child in the Classroom."

There is also an interesting article on our website from a later LEAD Action News, called "Lead Links to ADD and Learning Difficulties Case Histories"

Elizabeth O'Brien

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