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  QUESTION: What's my likely lead exposure from working in Turkey 20 years ago, 20 Dec 2004, North Carolina USA

Dear Sir:

Twenty years ago I worked in Turkey. I need information on lead content in that country also what areas are highly concentrated with Lead. Thanks

Bill Davis

ANSWER: 20 Dec 2004

Dear Bill,

Apart from our holiday close-down, I have been trying to find time to do a web-search on lead levels in Turkey for you but it finally occurred to me tonight that the correct answer to your question is that, depending on what work you did, it is perfectly possible for you to have been significantly exposed to lead working in Turkey 20 years ago or exposed to only background levels of lead as with everyone around you, which would have varied considerably, depending on the traffic density where you were living and working and on any hobby or accidental sources of lead such as in shooting ranges, lead lighting, sinker-making, ceramic ware, renovation of lead paint work, demolition of buildings in heavily trafficked areas, industrial or mining areas etc.

Even if we could identify that you were not exposed to any lead in the work that you did and that the area you lived and worked in was very highly lead contaminated, it would not necessarily mean that you were highly lead poisoned. People in the same contaminated environment vary markedly in the amount of lead they take in depending on their personal habits (lead intake is increased by nail-biting, smoking and any other hand-to-mouth activity), hygiene, nutritional status (a good intake of iron, calcium, zinc, selenium, protein, Vit C and omega three fatty acids is protective against lead absorption) and possibly genetic factors.

Perhaps what you are really asking is whether it can be determined now, what your body lead burden is, or whether you might be suffering from the effects of lead in your bloodstream today as a result of the leaching of lead stored in your bones 20 years ago (and during the rest of your life). The simple way to find out how much lead is in your bloodstream today is to ask your doctor for a blood lead test. The result will normally be a combination of current lead exposure and the leaching of stored lead from your bones. The blood lead level typically rises as you age and the maximum level that it reaches (at death) is dependent on your total body stores of lead as well as the effect of your hormones and calcium intake in keeping the stored lead in your bones. So it is always interesting to monitor your blood lead level say every 5 years (or more frequently if symptoms of lead poisoning such as hypertension, memory or hearing loss become apparent) as you age. There are other ways to measure your body burden of lead. Please let me know if I have answered your concerns and write back to let me know your current blood lead level. I'd be very interested to comment on any other specifics which may have given rise to your concerns.

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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