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  QUESTION: Treatment for lead poisoning & what to avoid. 24 Feb 2004, Wales UK

Hello. I am writing from Wales in the UK where I have recently discovered that a small group of people including my family and myself have been drinking water with a recently tested lead content of 1620 micrograms per litre (g/L), for about five years. This includes bathing and cooking as well as drinks. We are now searching for advice on what we can do in terms of treatment for the adults and the three children (now aged 13, 15 and 17). I have recently had a miscarriage which I understand has put me at more poisoning risk due to higher levels of lead being extracted from the bones into the blood for the pregnancy, as well as losing the baby. Any advice would be enormously appreciated. There are other issues like... should I get pregnant again (one assumes not), is it ok to fly long haul from uk to Australia (which has already been planned) and back (I have read that supersonic flight is to be avoided), can one do a normal detox for weight loss (will there be lead stored! in fat cells which could be released on dieting), what other things must be avoided in normal life (such as fairground rides???) and of course what types of treatment are available, can the lead be safely removed from the bone storage????? I hope you are able to help or put me in contact with someone who can help.

Yours faithfully, Gail

Sent: Tuesday, 24 February 2004 To: The LEAD Group

Subject: Re: Treatment for lead poisoning & what to avoid

Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you so much for your swift reply.

We have all been tested for blood lead levels and are awaiting the results, due 1st or 2nd March (a long wait!!).

We have all stopped drinking the water and we have notified local health officials. All of the small group served by the isolated water supply have been informed.

The source of the lead is a lead-lined water tank the size of a big kitchen and half a mile of lead pipe down the side of a small mountain from a mountain to pollute pure water!!! This serves only six dwellings, fortunately.

My doctor told me that she knows nothing about lead poisoning and would welcome all the advice she can get, so I will contact her for her e-mail address to send you or give her yours to make the connection between you. Thanks for what you have sent already. I will read it asap and pass it on to the doctor as well.

Is it inevitable that very high blood lead levels will cause a miscarriage, as I understand that the lead is stored in the bones and is drawn out in pregnancy causing high blood lead levels even if you didn't have high levels to begin with. This will inform my decision about getting pregnant again. I must admit to being sick, weak and utterly exhausted while I was pregnant, to the point of not being able to even get up, converse, think, watch TV or anything at all, unlike any pregnancy anyone I know has experienced or witnessed.

I also wonder how quickly the blood lead levels settle back down after pregnancy/miscarriage...does the excess get reabsorbed into the bones? If it is still high (miscarriage was only five weeks ago), can the lead be removed before it gets reabsorbed into the bones? Do you need to have a bone lead test to determine how much is in the bones available to come out in pregnancy, so as to inform the decision about getting pregnant again. There is some relative urgency for me in this area as I am already 41 (although otherwise extremely healthy) and have just lost my first pregnancy. This bone lead issue could also affect my step daughter (currently 13). Could she end up being unable to carry a pregnancy too? Also as I understand it, the lead which has come out of the bones into the blood during pregnancy, flows around the whole body (including the fetus) causing damage to the brain and kidneys and other parts of the mother's body.

ANSWER: 24 Feb 2004

Dear Gail,

I am very sorry to hear about your family's plight and especially about your miscarriage. It is only recommended that a couple try to conceive if both the parents have a blood lead level below 10 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL), which is the equivalent of below 0.48 micromoles per litre (mol/L).

I have never heard the advice that lead poisoned people should avoid supersonic flight but I would be interested to know where you found this advice so I can check it out. However, normal flights are not supersonic (above the speed of sound) so I know nothing to suggest that you need change your plans to fly to Australia.

The detox for weight loss should normally be done under a doctor's supervision I believe so it would be part of the process that you let the doctor know you are lead poisoned and take the doctor's advice on the weight loss detox program. Lead is not stored in fat and the weight loss detox programs I am aware of actually use some of the same components as would be used for alternative treatment of lead poisoning eg lots of water, large doses of vitamin C and supplements of zinc and selenium.

What are the blood lead levels of everyone who was drinking the water? These levels would actually determine my answer to all your other questions so it would be good to correspond further but please let me know. Have you stopped drinking the water and notified public health officials in case other people are in a similar situation, apart from the other small group of people that you already mentioned? What was the source of the lead in the water?

Usually the key to lead poisoning treatment is finding a doctor who knows about lead poisoning. I will send a second email that you could forward to a doctor which contains a lot of useful information about lead for doctors but there is also a lot of info about treatment which is not so easily accessible, so please let me know if your treating doctor requires it.

Please keep in touch. It is vital for everyone's blood lead level to be as low as possible below 10 g/dL as quickly as possible.

SECOND EMAIL 24th February 2004

Dear Gail,

Thanks for your email - if it can happen in your neck of the woods, I hope the Public Health officials can work out that it could be happening elsewhere in Wales. Your loss may at least provoke a huge publicity drive to locate others so affected and stop the poisoning! I'm so relieved to hear that you are drinking other water and trust that it is lead-free!
If your blood lead levels are high, the one "advantage" of this would be that you should have no trouble locating a treating doctor and obtaining chelation therapy. The withholding of chelation treatment usually only occurs with the most conservative doctors at a blood lead level of 45 micrograms per decilitre (g/dL) in children and 55 g/dL in adults but I have heard of unlucky victims who were sent home from hospital without treatment at 70 g/dL in the last couple of years and even above 100 g/dL a couple of decades ago! Alternative doctors have been known to give chelation therapy at virtually any blood lead level.

The questions that you ask certainly point to a strong argument for chelation in your case and your step-daughters but those that would argue that chelation should only be used at very high blood lead levels, would claim that the chelation treatment itself has side-effects and may damage the kidneys (thus re-hydration - taking plenty of water - and supplementing with trace minerals which can be depleted along with the lead, is a vital part of the treatment). It all comes back to finding a doctor who knows what they're doing or is prepared to educate themselves. These days, oral (and also suppository-style) chelating agents are available over the internet but should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor. It is my understanding that very high blood lead levels will not inevitably lead to a miscarriage but rather the hormone levels in the particular pregnancy and the mother's calcium intake and absorption (which thus impacts on how much lead instead of calcium is fed to the foetus) can vary so widely that more or less lead stays in the bones from one pregnancy to another in the same woman.

I'm probably as keen to hear your blood lead results as you all are! Sometimes labs can be hurried if the doctor tells them its urgent.

I'll hear from you soon.
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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