Lead has finally been getting some of the attention it needs in China in recent months. While that has still been mostly among foreigners, and this attention has unfortunate origins (the discovery of elevated Blood Lead Levels in some children, it is a valuable step in the right direction. A crucially important subject, especially in China, lead has been much-neglected as a critical health concern, and awareness levels of its sources and effects have been woefully low. Hopefully, this is slowly set to change.
There have been recent revisions to some international lead standards, the most significant being to Blood Lead Levels (especially important for children). Here is what you need to know of the standards in blood, materials, air and water. It is important to remember that these are standards, and not merely recommendations.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has recently updated its recommendations on children’s blood lead levels.
The focus has shifted to primary prevention of lead exposure, so that dangerous lead sources in children’s environments can be reduced or eliminated before they are exposed to them.
Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead ‘level of concern’ if the test result showed 10 or more micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl) of lead in blood. CDC is no longer using the term ‘level of concern’ and is instead using a reference value to identify children who have been exposed to lead and who require case management : experts now use a reference level of 5 ug/dl to identify children with blood lead levels that are a cause for concern.
A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that an average increase in blood lead concentration of micrograms (from 10 to 20) in children was associated with a lower IQ of about 2 points. However, the same increase in lead from a lower level (from 1 to 10 micrograms) was correlated with a 7.4 point IQ decline.
In other words, an increase in blood lead levels below the ‘concern’ level has a much more significant impact on IQ than at higher concentrations. There is no ‘safe’ threshold level of lead in our bodies.
The new lower value also means that more children will likely be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.
What has not changed is the recommendation for when medical treatment is advised for children – the guideline says that chelation therapy be considered when a child has a blood lead test result of 45ug/dl.
If you are a resident of Shanghai or Beijing, here is where you can do Blood Lead Level tests
Though lead is at large in our environment, lead exposure is entirely preventable. The key is keeping children from coming into contact with lead, taking simple steps to make homes lead-safe, and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.
Standards for Lead in Material :
• For food products intended for infants and children, the FDA has set an action level of 0.5 µg/mL for lead is recommended. The use of lead-soldered food cans is banned.
Read more here
• The limit for lead in a paint coating (and similar surface coatings) has been lowered from 600PPM to 90PPM (0.009%) Read more here
• Accessible components (non-internal) on children’s products are required to contain no more than 100PPM of lead.
Read more here
• The lead content limit for bare soil in children’s play areas is 400PPM and for bare soil in general areas is 1200PPM.
Read more here
Standards for Lead in Air :
• NIOSH at CDC has set a Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) of 50 µg/m3 from lead in the workplace air to be maintained so that worker blood lead remains < 60 µg/dL of whole blood. Read more here
• The EPA’s recommended limit for lead in ambient air is 0.15 µg/m3 averaged over a calendar quarter.
Read more here
The EPA has set drinking water standards with two levels of protection : the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) is 0 (zero). This is the level determined to be safe by toxicological and biomedical considerations, independent of feasibility. This, therefore, is the goal for lead in water. The other rule establishes an ‘action level’ at 15 µg/L.
Older structures, however, still have lead pipe or lead-soldered plumbing internally, which may substantially increase the lead content of water in the tap. In China, there is also a risk of contamination in the badly-maintained pipelines the water travels before it reaches homes.
Hiring professionals to test the water for lead is, therefore, the most advisable strategy.
Additional reading :
• CDC on lead