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  QUESTION: Is uncontrollable behaviour caused by lead, 18 Nov 2003, USA

My four year old daughter has lead levels of 12. When she was first tested it was 38. We have been trying to get it lower for two years. She has uncontrollable behavior. What should I do, and is it from the lead? I can't control her, nobody can, and she gets really mad and throws stuff at me.

I need help. I have seasonal depression, so it is very hard for me.


ANSWER: 20 Nov 2003

Dear Amanda,

In the attached study [also at Low-Level Lead Exposure and Behavior in Early Childhood] by Alan L. Mendelsohn et. al, the behaviour of younger children (1-3 year olds) than your daughter, who had lower blood lead levels (more than 10 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL) but less than 25 g/dL) than your daughter, was compared to children with blood lead levels less than 10 g/dL. Here are the conclusions:

"Low-level lead exposure is associated with adverse behavioral changes in very young preschool children. This association may be particularly important for poor children, who are also at risk for behavior problems on the basis of other environmental factors such as maternal depression. Clinicians should consider screening for behavioral problems in very young children with low-level lead exposure."

I hope that your local health department has sent someone out to the house to determine your daughter's sources of lead. It would be excellent if her blood lead level fell below 10 g/dL and preferably as low as possible. I know how frustrating it is when the blood lead level won't come down. It took me more than two years to get my son's blood lead level down from 31 g/dL to below 10 g/dL and I believe that what did it in the end was that we removed the old carpet that had been on the floor for 15 years, including during the time when the previous owners dry sanded the internal paint. Note that before you remove carpet, don't have your daughter there and you need to vacuum it with a HEPA filter industrial vacuum cleaner and wet it down with water spray to reduce the amount of dust in the air. Wearing a mask, cut up the carpet so it is possible to cart it while wet (it gets very heavy) and have plastic in a pathway to your disposal bin and cart out the carpet in pieces and repeat the vacuuming and water-spray on the underlay, remove the underlay then vacuum the floor.

I don't know where the lead has come from in your home but the Centers for Disease Control have published a guide to help your local health department staff to help you with this - see "Managing Elevated Blood Lead Levels Among Young Children: Recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention"

If you could give me some idea of where you think the lead is coming from or how it gets into your daughter, I may be able to give you some more ideas on what to do.

Can you also speak to your doctor about your depression - treatment these days is pretty good and the better you are feeling the better off your daughter will be. It's a difficult time you are going through but since you are in the United States, you are in the best country in the world in terms of availability of assistance and understanding in dealing with this problem.

I wish you well.
Elizabeth O'Brien

Update 2010 See: Main Sources of Lead

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