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  QUESTION: XRF & testing foetuses of chronic lead poisoned mothers for lead, 29 Apr 2005, Scotland United Kingdom

Please can you advise on two issues:-

  1. Can foetuses of chronic lead poisoned mothers be tested? Where can I go for further information.
  2. Where is xray inflourescence (used in detecting lead absorption in bone) - a test done in vivo available?

Many Thanks
Jeannette Richardson

ANSWER: 30 Apr 2005

Dear Jeannette,

I have never heard of any other way of testing a foetus in utero for lead exposure than by the indirect method of testing the mother's blood lead level - the level of lead in the foetal blood and the mother's blood are generally reckoned to be similar enough that the mother's blood, being quite safe to sample and easily collected, is a good surrogate for the foetal blood.

As far as I am aware, x-ray fluorescence of lead in patients' bone is only available in the United States and Canada from:

Prof David Chettle, Professor, Medical Physics & Applied Radiation Sciences, Department of Physics and Astronomy, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, phone +1 905 525 9140 ext. 27340

Prof Howard Hu, Director and Professor of Public Health Sciences, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, phone +1 416 978 8989

The only other XRF that I have heard of closer to Scotland was in a National Geographic documentary showing the work of Liesbeth Smits, of Smits Antropologisch Bureau Kerkstraat 305 1017 GZ Amsterdam t @ 020-622 48 90 ancientbones(AT)hetnet(DOT)nl
For information on her documentary about lead poisoning called "Tales Of The Living Dead: Poisoned Roman Babies" Director: Chris Warren. [television]. Brighton TV for National Geographic, which refers to Prof. Freek de Wolff who found the lead in the babies bones.
My websearch reveals mostly Dutch information about Prof. de Wolff but he appears to be a Forensic Toxicologist at Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum - Leiden University Medical Center [GENERAL EMAIL:].
It may be worth contacting Liesbeth Smits to ask for direct contact details OR she may already know whether Prof de Wolff has access to an XRF machine for measuring lead in patients' bones.
Good luck and please let me know how you get along as we could add any new information to our database for the next inquiry.
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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