Lead Exposure

UPDATE : Click here for our updated guide to all you need to know about Lead, including recent revisions to international standards, prevention, and where to get Blood Lead tested.

Contact us for our comprehensive Full-Home Lead Investigaton package, that includes air, water and material samples (toys, soil, foods, etc.) *Special offer on this package runs till March 14, 2015.

What you must know about Lead Exposure :Know about Lead

  • Lead is a heavy metal used for many years in paint, gasoline, and plumbing, and continues to be used in electronics and plastics.  Yet, it is extremely poisonous at trace amounts, causing  elevated blood pressure, kidney dysfunction, anemia, and physical and mental retardation.
  • A recent large scale study concluded a causal link between lead, mercury, and manganese to autism, citing the first trimester of pregnancy as the most vulnerable period.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers lead to be the greatest environmental health risk to children and the WHO estimates that about 800,000 children are affected by lead exposure each year[1] Yet, in China, awareness of lead dangers is extremely low
  • About 34% of children in China have blood-lead levels that exceed the WHO limit, according to researchers at the Beijing University Health Science Center, who reviewed 10 years of data on the topic.  In comparison, less than 1 percent of children in the US have levels above the WHO limit.[2]
  • A study by the Shanghai Institute for Pediatric Research found that over 40 percent of the tested umbilical cords of newborns in Shanghai had lead blood poisoning (>10ug/dl)[3]
  • “The effects of lead exposure appear to be long-lasting and irreversible… chelation therapy had no beneficial effects on tests of cognition, behavior, or neuropsychological function. Prevention is thus the only plausible strategy.”
  • The top sources of lead exposure are: ingestion of lead-contaminated paint chips, dust or dirt and lead in drinking water.

What is it and why is it a unique concern in China?

  • Lead is still commonly found in products, including food

Lead (Pb) is a heavy metal that for many years was used in paint, gasoline, plumbing, and many manufactured items.  In China, lead is still prized in manufacturing because it is plentiful, cheap, malleable, and resistant to corrosion. Lead compounds are regularly added to plastics and vinyl to make them more resistant to high temperatures. Because lead is heavy, it is often added to cheap metal products to make them seem more substantial. Lead dust is sometimes added to herbal products that are sold by weight to make them heavier and increase their value.  Lead may also be found in the solder connecting pipes for your home plumbing.  Lead is still used in jet and low-grade fuels and can last for decades in soil.  Years of unchecked industrial pollution combined with loose enforcement of environmental regulations have left China with lead-contaminated air, soil, and water.  A compilation of 32 blood level studies over the past decade found that even among screened subjects who lived in areas with no lead pollution sources, over one-third of the children had lead poisoning (>100ug/dl).[4]

  • General low level of awareness about dangers of lead

Despite growing awareness of air and water pollution, most Chinese (including doctors) do not recognize lead as a significant hazard.  As a result, few regulations have been enacted to control for lead (outside of export controls) and no campaign exists to educate the public on the dangers.  Of specific concern to foreigners is the fact that there is no consumer product safety commission and no laws mandating lead-free buildings. Do not count on the government or your landlord to protect you.

This Wall Street Journal article won a Pulitzer award in 2007 for reporting on the widespread lead poisoning in China. [Sidebar] http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/7141

Learn more about lead threats

What does lead do to our bodies?

Lead is very poisonous to human beings, when ingested, inhaled or absorbed. Even tiny amounts of it in our blood, measured in millionths of grams (micrograms) can harm our health.  Lead poisoning has been conclusively linked to infertility, kidney dysfunction, anemia, and colon cancer in adults. However, the greatest danger is to fetuses and young children under the age of six, since their activity increases exposure to lead and children’s bodies more easily absorb it.

Lead poisoning at trace amounts has been conclusively linked to neurological damage, retardation of cognitive and physical development, and even violent behavior in children.  Lead causes brain damage by mimicking helpful metals found naturally in the body, such as calcium, iron and zinc, and binding with the same molecules and proteins. Calcium, for example, is essential for brain development because it facilitates the growth of nerve cells. But lead binds with the sites in the brain that were intended for calcium, disrupting brain circuits critical for learning, and sometimes impeding cell growth. The process leads to irreversible intellectual impairment.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and the WHO have both lowered the level of concern to 10 micrograms per deciliter (blood), a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that an average increase in blood lead concentration of children of 10 micrograms (from 10 to 20) was associated with a lower IQ of about 2 points.  However, the same increase in lead at 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 “alert” level have a much more significant impact on IQ than at higher concentrations.[5] There is no “safe” threshold level of lead in our bodies!

Source: www.personalizedmedicine.posterous.com/environmental-factors-contributing-to-the-ons

Expectant mothers should be particularly careful not only to avoid lead, but to reduce existing lead, since lead stored in the bones is mobilized during pregnancy and passed to the fetus through the mother’s blood.[6]

How do I test for lead?

Given the lack of laws and awareness against the use of lead, Shanghai residents, particularly those with children, are advised to assume that lead is in the local environment and test for the most common locations in their surroundings as a precaution: ie. window frames, soil, water, cribs, playground sand. Although do-it-yourself quick lead tests may be used to identify high levels of lead, they are only useful on surface paint and may provide false positives, particularly when used to test colored or dark objects.  We test with the use of handheld XRF (x-ray cathode) guns or lab spectrometry analysis.

Based on the severe potential long-term effects and their vulnerability, blood lead level (BLL) testing is recommended [link to http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/lead/pbtests_diagnosis2.html] for children between the ages of one and six.  Blood lead level is measured in micrograms per deciliter of blood (ug/dl).  Although the CDC currently uses 10ug/dl as a level of concern, the negative impact of lead on IQ is even stronger below that so zero lead should be a goal.   Please contact us for free information on health providers who offer testing and chelation therapy.

Other symptoms of poisoning (adults also) include:

• Fatigue, lethargy, or sometimes hyperactivity

• Headaches

• Weight loss

• Insomnia

• Constipation

• Bluish line along the gums (Burton’s line). This is less common in children.

• Irritability

• Metallic taste in your mouth

• Nausea, abdominal pain

• Poor appetite

• Reduced cognitive abilities

• Reproductive problems

If I find it, what do I do about it?

If testing has identified lead hazards in your home, you should first eliminate.  For buildings or large structures, lead abatement is an involved process that consists of removing the construction materials with lead (ie. Window frames) and replacing, or sanding painted surfaces down to bare concrete and then repainting and wrapping window wells with vinyl or aluminum.  Do not remove paint yourself.  Lead abatement is best conducted by experienced professionals who can contain the hazard as they renovate.

If elevated levels of lead are found in your or your child’s body, chelation therapy is used to remove lead.  Medications are ingested that bind the lead and then are passed naturally through the urine.  Oral chelation drugs are normally prescribed for blood lead levels less than 70 ug/dl.  For higher or long-term lead poisoning, there are other metal-removing agents which are injected into the muscle.  Contact your medical provider or ask us and we will be happy to provide some more information.

However, chelation only reduces lead in the human body.  Once lead has impacted the cognitive development of a child, there is no remedy.  A Harvard School of Public Health study concluded: “The effects of lead exposure appear to be long-lasting and irreversible…  chelation therapy given to lower moderately elevated blood lead levels in preschool children…had no beneficial effects on tests of cognition, behavior, or neuropsychological function. Prevention is thus the only plausible strategy.”[7]

How to eliminate or reduce lead exposure:

  • Have your home inspected and children under the age of six tested for lead.  Landlords in China are not required to disclose historical health hazards or lead issues to tenants.  Professionals can recommend likely sources of lead exposure in Chinese homes and advise on ways to eliminate the sources or control them.
  • Hand-wash.  Since the main sources of lead exposure are through ingestion of lead-based paint chips or inhaling dust, children should frequently wash their hands and avoid hand-to-mouth contact.
  • Don’t bring lead into the home – Lead-contaminated soil is a major vector for lead ingestion.    Adopt the Asian habit of taking off your shoes before coming into the house.  Findings from an EPA study indicated that when a doormat was used and shoes were not worn, lead dust and other chemicals in the home were reduced by about 60 percent.[8] Clean frequently with a wet mop or HEPA-filter equipped vacuum to avoid any trace lead from going into the air where it can be inhaled.  Cigarette ash contains lead.
  • Paint and home renovation – Most construction in China is fairly new, using lead-free paint, but children should be watched in older buildings to prevent their swallowing paint chips or chewing painted surfaces, including toys and cribs.  During renovations, children should be kept away from sanding and paint removal.  Renovators should wear filtration masks to avoid breathing in dust.  Never burn paint or painted wood.
  • Lead in water – the EPA estimates that about 10-20 percent of lead exposure comes from drinking water.  Test your water for lead, particularly if water is brown or has an iron smell after water has been sitting.  Flush your taps before using, as standing water has a higher amount of lead.  You may want to use a quality multi-stage or reverse osmosis water filter that is capable of removing lead, or drink bottled water from a reliable source.  Don’t cook with water that comes out of the hot tap, as it is more likely to have higher levels of dissolved metals.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables and peel root vegetables. Food produced close to heavy traffic or lead-emitting industries will have more lead.
  • Traditional medicine – traditional medicines have been linked in studies to higher lead blood levels.  Be careful or test food first for lead prior to providing it to your children.  Preserved eggs (which are buried in soil) also have been identified as a factor in fetal lead poisoning[9]
  • Avoid cans with lead-soldered seams.  Local cans are more likely to use lead than major international brands.  Cans with acidic contents are higher risk due to the leaching effect of the acid.
  • Test secondhand toys and older cribs for lead based paints or materials.  Stay away from “off-brand” toy manufacturers, as they may be less likely to comply with safety requirements.
  • Jewelry – Inexpensive toy jewelry (trinkets, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, metallic hair accessories and “big heavy” finger rings) can contain high amounts of lead.  A survey of inexpensive jewelry – a range of items costing less than $20 – found 70% contained lead.
  • Candles – Some candles have lead in their wicks, particularly those from Mexico or China.  Burning them releases lead into the air

PURELIVING’S FULL-HOME LEAD INVESTIGATION PACKAGE : Air, Water, Materials – Toys, Foods, Soil, etc.

*Special Offer till March 14, 2015

Contact Us to ensure a safe home


[1] WHO, 2002; Pruss-Usten et al. 2004.

[2] “Blood lead levels in children, China,” Wang and Zhang. Environmental Research.  1/25/06

[3] “Umbilical cord blood lead levels in Shanghai, China,” Shen, Yan, and Guo.  Biomed Environmental Science. 3/97

[4] “Blood lead levels in children, China,” Wang and Zhang. Environmental Research.  1/25/06

[5] “Intellectual Impairment in Children with Blood Lead Concentrations below 10 ?g per Deciliter,” New England Journal of Medicine, 4/17/03

[6] Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR). http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/lead/pbcasestudy_pretest2.html

[7] “Intellectual Impairment in Children with Blood Lead Concentrations below 10 ?g per Deciliter,” New England Journal of Medicine, 4/17/03

[8] Roberts, J.W. & Ott, W.R. (2007).  Exposure to Pollutants from House Dust. In Ott, W.R., Steinemann, A.C. & Wallace,  L.A. (Eds.) Exposure Analysis, 319–345

[9] “Umbilical cord blood lead levels in Shanghai, China,” Shen, Yan, and Guo.  Biomed Environmental Science. 3/97