Transcript of Video made by Joan
produced for the New Jersey Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in approximately 1992. Transcribed by Kate
[Permission to web-publish this transcript was
kindly given by Joan Luckhardt]
- Kath MANAHAN:
Page is an energetic five-year-old. She once suffered lead
encephalopathy, a serious lead poisoning disease.
Sheís gotten quite sick and then presented having seizures (convulsions).
Well since she began walking sheís like picking up everything.
Everything she picks up she puts into her mouth and up until that time
she became sick it was just like you know, and has gotten worse.
Itís like she had a craving for things, dirt, dust in the house and
out of the house. I had heard of lead poisoning but I had no knowledge
the damage and so forth that it does to children and Iíve never seen
children that had lead poisoning before.
The public Health Service estimates Three Million children have toxic
levels of lead in their blood. The children arenít the only ones who
get sick from exposure to this toxic material. Some Nine Million
adults also have unacceptable blood lead levels.
As the lead poisoning started to progress I was having a lot of problems
with irritability. I had no appetite, I broke out with a lot of hives,
irritability as I said, very fatigued in the late afternoons, bones in
my arms, my legs were starting to hurt, low libido and some sort of
loss of memory.
Scientists have known the dangers of lead poisoning for centuries. We know now
that lead can be passed from one generation to the next during
pregnancy. That the presence of lead in a babyís blood or bones
before or after birth can cause irreparable damage to physical,
emotional and intellectual development. Exposure to even low levels of
lead can leave a child scared for life.
John GRAEF, MD, Boston Childrenís Hospital:
We have indeed made a whole generation of Americans a little bit
stupider, because they got lead poisoning. The fact that they donít
know how much it effected or blunted their potential is a tragedy in
Hello Iím Kath Manahan. Today we can be thankful that the fazed reduction
of lead in gasoline has lowered the average Americanís blood lead
level by 38% in the past decade. New Jersey is the most industrialised
state in the country and lead remains the second most prevalent
chemical in use here today. It is in our soil, our water, the food we
eat and the air we breathe. A National Health survey shows that
millions of American children now carry unacceptable levels of lead in
is part of the national environment. It is believed that the fall of
Rome was due in part to lead poisoning. The ancient Romans ingested
large amounts of the metal through their leaded water pipes and
drinking vessels. Many became sterile. In the past lead
poisoning was considered a public health hazard for city children who
lived in dilapidated housing and ate paint chips. Children would
eventually wind up in the hospital emergency room having seizures or
in a coma. Itís likely if you took a poll most of the participants
would tell you that lead poisoning is not a serious threat today. But
Steven Marcus Director of the New Jersey Poison Control Centre knows
Steven MARCUS, MD, Director New Jersey Poison Control Centre:
I canít begin to tell you the number of times I get a telephone call
from some doctor or some industrial hygienist that says they have some
worker some place and has such and such symptoms and I say. ĎGee it
sounds like it could be lead poisoning.í And they say. ĎWell I
didnít think that lead poisoning existed any moreí.
The presumption that lead poisoning is a problem of the past can be a
deadly misconception. The fact is lead in the workplace still plays a
major role in the overall number of lead poisoned cases that develop
every year. Painters, sanders, automotive workers and those who work
at indoor firing ranges are at risk. Efran Afrodato, A New York City
Police Detective who trains emergency services officers in the use of
rifles and handguns was poisoned on the job.
What really made me believe it was when I got stuck here at the range. My
starter, for the car went dead. And I told my buddy (Iím the
Godfather of his son) and what he did was, went to the store, picked
up a starter, came over here, took mine off, and put the new one on,
and I just started fighting with him. And heíd gone way out of his
way. And he comes and tells me. ĎAce why are you so irritable?í
And thatís when I actually believed for the first time that I had
been affected by it.
Joseph GRAZIANO, Ph.D., Colombia University:
Officer Afrodato was I believe at the time a pistol instructor. The
ventilation system in the firing range was not operating as it should
have and so the indoor lead concentration became quite high, the
firing caps of the bullet has a lead compound in it. That little puff
of smoke that you see when a gun is fired contains lead and so men
that would work at the firing range, who are around this kind of smoke
all day long, do get exposed to quite high levels of lead in an indoor
Interior lead based paint was banned in this country in 1977 but in the 1970
sensors found that more than forty million houses across the United
States were painted before World War II. They were painted with lead
based paint. As a result tens of millions of people who live and work
in those houses are threatened by lead poisoning. Also at high risk
are industrial painters, men and women in construction, and the marine
industries are still exposed to lead because the Government has not
yet banned lead in all exterior paint.
K. TUCKER, Ph.D., New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection:
Thereís the perception now among a lot of people that weíve solved some of
the problems with exposure to lead. Particularly with the phase out of
lead in paint for residential structures and phased down the lead in
gasoline. There is no timetable for the phase out of lead in marine
applications or the paint used in painting bridges. I think it will
only be when the realisation comes that these are additional sources
of lead and when it can be shown that these are also exposure sources
to children that are causing health effects. I think then the pressure
will be put on to phase out lead in these other uses.
But the danger of lead poisoning is not confined to dilapidated housing it
enters the industrial working environment too. Lead poisoning knows no
economic or professional boundaries. A new phenomena, sometimes called
ĎYuppie Lead Poisoningí has developed as young professionals buy
up the homes in older neighbourhoods. Connie Clayman and Eric Sohberg
bought a Brownstone in Jersey City and moved in with their daughter
Kristen. They couldnít wait to start renovating. As they worked they
were unknowingly breathing lead particles. Lead was the farthest thing
from their minds and they didnít know the importance of proper lead
removal. After months of work their home was beautiful but their
daughter Kristen was poisoned.
We've come to believe now that it was mostly due to dust from renovating.
For example if we took down a wall or a ceiling had to come down on
the top floor that would make a dust in the air and we would clean up
and dispose of the garbage but there would still be a lingering dust.
Even if it was in a different part of the house and kept the doors
closed, dust seeps throughout and lasts a long time. Itís really not
safe to renovate in the same house weíve come to learn with children
around. I mean you could renovate, you could seal off with plastic but
your gonna walk in and out, your shoes will, your body will, something
will come out and we found that dust is so insidious that sealing off
with tape I donít even think would. Although people do that and it
might be okay. I would say that itís taking a chance. Old houses are
beautiful and we love our house but renovating one doesnít mix with
Kristen was diagnosed with lead poisoning several years ago.
When we found out that Kristen had lead, the doctor told us ĎWell I think
she might have leadí and I said I think I know where this comes
from, I should have thought of this beforeí, but I didnít. You
donít think of it.
But Connie and Eric are informed now and sheís working to get the word
out to others.
Trying to get education about lead out is important to us now. We talk to as
many people as we can and Iíve joined the Lead Advisory Group in
Jersey City to try and fight lead because ignorance about lead
poisoning. Everybody thinks it is some one elseís problem. Itís
not their problem. The problem of lead poisoning is you donít see the
effects of lead poisoning unless the kid is so sick, that really it is
very extremely dangerous but the lower levels which donít have
physical effects is still very dangerous and can cause permanent brain
damage. But people donít know this and itís easier to say ĎMy
kid looks fine, My kidís all right, I donít have a problem even if
I live in an old homeí.
But the danger isnít only in the interiors. On some homes it is on the
outside too. As exterior lead based paint decays lead chips make their
way into the soil where theyíre invisible. Sometimes deteriorating
paint in the soil is ingested by children who come into contact with
dirt while playing. Another culprit is leaded gasoline. If you drive
an old car you use it. The lead in the gas is emitted into the air and
eventually settles into our soils well. It is important to be aware of
this danger and to test the soil around your home for the presence of
lead. Another corporate pesticide for years arsenate has been used as
a pesticide to help fruit ripen. The deadly pesticide seeps into the
ground and remains on the fruit. Particularly grapefruit thatís why
itís important to wash fruit carefully. Most municipal water
supplies do not contain lead but service pipes and residential
plumbing do. For mothers it is important to remember when making your
babyís bottle, lead can be found in that first draw of water. Your
local Health Department can answer questions about how to have your
water tested for lead.
glazed pottery has been a source of lead intoxication. A Seattle
couple were severely poisoned by drinking coffee day after day from
their hand painted Italian mugs. They decided to market a kit so
others could test ceramic dishes for lead. Testing dishes and mugs is
a good idea particularly if theyíre imported from countries where
lead is still used in ceramic glazes.
Steven MARCUS, MD, Director New Jersey Poison Control Centre:
We have seen people from amateur sculptors, that were doing firing of
their art work, to small cottage industries that were involved in
manufacturing of pottery wares, as well as all the way up to as I
mentioned smelters and foundry workers and every conceivable variation
on the theme in between there. People get exposed by their hobbies as
well. We have taken care of people that worked on making stained glass
windows, soldering the pieces in between the glass and ended up
spending time on lead therapy to remove the lead they absorbed through
that process. We have had people that manufacture bullets as a hobby
or manufacture fishing sinkers as a hobby that got lead poisoning.
Young children like Aleily Page, who we met earlier some times, get lead
poisoning from eating sweet tasting paint chips. Ameilyís parents
never realised the dangers from her eating paint chips. Putting non-
food items in the mouth is called Pica. It is very common in children
under the age of five. But the years between the age of birth and the
age of three are the most important in the physical and intellectual
development of the child. As a result the lead poisoning that occurs
in this period can permanently damage a childís ability to learn.
When Aleily was first admitted to the hospital having seizures, her
blood lead level was found to be fifty times higher than the national
average and about twenty times higher than the level recommended for
John GRAEF MD, Boston Childrenís Hospital:
Now if you bring lead along while a child is at the age of twelve months,
thirteen, fourteen months - is learning to acquire speech - itís
like putting glue in the gas tank of an engine. It will slow it down
in a rather selective way in different parts of the process. Now if
you continue that slowing over a period of several months, by then, by
the time you came out the other end youíve already gummed up the
learning process for that child. And as far as we know this is an
irreversible gumming. Itís not something you can turn the clock back
Steven MARCUS, MD, Director New Jersey Poison Control Centre:
Lead interfering with brain functioning during that period of time
interferes with that whole acquisition of language and the closest
link to future intelligence is acquisition of language. So you have a
double whammy. You have a child that is undergoing a tremendous amount
of development during that period of time. He is also at the stage
where he explores his environment with his mouth. Therefore he is more
likely to put something into his mouth and if thereís lead around he
is more likely to put lead into his mouth, and then get more damaged
at the time where he is undergoing this incredible amount of
development, so that the child is at a tremendous risk of future
retardation, because of that little window of vulnerability between
about one year and three years of age.
Dr. Marcus adds that lead is accumulated the longer it is in a childís
system the more likely it will cause damage. As a result the lead one
ingests as a child stays with that person and continues to expose the
body for at least Twenty to Thirty years.
Steven MARCUS, MD, Director New Jersey Poison Control Centre:
All lead is too much lead. There is not a single body system, there is not
a single enzyme within the human body for that matter any animal that
I know of that requires lead. Lead is always considered a contaminant.
There is just about no level of lead that any individual can have that
we cannot demonstrate that it is causing some problem.
After lead is ingested or inhaled it makes its way into the blood where it
is most accessible to the rest of the body and where it does the most
damage. Eventually lead makes its way into the bones and there itís
stored sometimes for years undetected. During pregnancy a womanís
hormones can cause the lead in her bones to mobilise and re-enter the
blood stream, where it is easily passed to the unborn child through
the umbilical cord. A babyís blood lead level will reflect its
mothers. If the motherís lead level is significant at this crucial
stage of a babyís development there is a good possibility the child
will suffer a birth defect.
WEITZMAN, MD, Boston City Hospital:
There is often a question about what exactly is lead poisoning and how
detrimental it is to children. I think it is important that people
recognise that as weíve become more sophisticated over the past two
to three decades, people have realised that there are a wide range of
effects of lead poisoning and probably no level of lead is safe for
children. There is an unfortunate tendency and it is easy to
understand why it exists, to over simplify the lead problem, and then
think of it exclusively in terms of IQ points. People have
demonstrated fairly conclusively a wide range of dysfunctional
behaviours that go along with lead poisoning, so that I think we
trivialise the problem when we think of it merely in terms of IQ
Points. Although as parents none of us want our children to loose two
to six IQ points, which some studies have demonstrated can be the
effect of even low levels of lead exposure.
BELLINGER, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School:
The teachers rated the higher lead children as being more distractable in
the classroom, less able to follow directions, more impulsive, higher
frequency of daydreaming, really the kinds of factors that had to do
with the childís ability to pay attention.
Moodiness, hyper activity, emotional disturbances, alteration disorders, are all
potential signs of lead poisoning in young children. In older children
delinquency and learning disabilities are possible indications of lead
in the blood. Severe symptoms of lead toxicity, clumsiness, fatigue,
pallor, loss of appetite, loss of muscle coordination, weakness,
abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, constipation and loss of
consciousness can be seen in children and adults.
John ROSEN, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine:
I think it is very important to understand that lead per say at the
concentrations that we are seeing even at very low concentrations
which are even barely measurable has the capacity of irrevocably
impairing that child for life and I think that this is absolutely,
totally unacceptable in the United States.
Michael WEITZMAN, MD, Boston City Hospital:
I think that one of the great tragedies in regard to childrenís health
in the United States is that we have an enormous environmental problem
with lead poisoning of children who live in urban communities, and
unlike a variety of other problems the children are at risk for there
is no primary prevention for children with lead poisoning that I am
aware of in the United States. There is whatever exists for caring for
children with lead poisoning is triggered, once the child becomes
poisoned so that the child has to be injured before anybody does
anything for the child.
BELLINGER, Ph.D, Harvard Medical School:
We know where the lead is. We know what the pathways of exposure are for
the children, and we know that the current levels of exposure received
by a large percentage of children are unacceptable. But I think now
attention is shifting to going out and identifying where the lead is
before it gets into the children and trying to prevent the initial
exposure rather than trying to limit toxicity once exposure has
exposure to lead is a national problem. It does occur more frequently
in the inner city area. I think to blame parents for inadequate
supervision or for allowing their children to get lead poisoned is
simply a case of blaming the victim. The lead is there. We know where
it is, and it is really societies responsibility to go out and clean
it up before it wreaks any more havoc. Ití is an equal opportunity
toxicant, it doesnít just effect lower class children, middle class
children are vulnerable as well.
If your child is sick from lead poisoning chances are you are too. It is
important to get medical attention right away other wise you are
risking serious health problems.
In adults symptoms of lead poisoning and toxicity
can present themselves as loss of libido, hypertension, infertility,
miscarriage, kidney failure, and even damage to the central nervous
system. The ideal blood lead level is of course zero. It is important
for us to be informed about the symptoms and dangers of lead
poisoning. It is important to recognise lead poisoning as a growing
national health hazard that effects all of us young and old. It is
also important that we realise that proper treatment is available.
Once this treatment is started it is essential that the source of lead
is uncovered. Again youíre local Health Department can help with
soil and paint analysis and recommend ways for the safe removal. The
symptoms can be silent but the dangers of lead poisoning are no