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  QUESTION: What might be the effect of a 12 yr old routinely sucking & chewing a length of electronic solder? 24 Jul 2006, Western Australia

As a youngster (around 12 y/o) I did a lot of electronic soldering as a hobby. I routinely sucked and chewed a length of solder much as you might chew a pencil. What are the dangers of this and how would it have affected me? How long can lead stay in the body?


Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks very much for the information. I'll certainly talk to a doctor about it. I'm basically a healthy person, but I do wonder if I've suffered in terms of cognitive development and behavioural effects. I remember at the time feeling lethargy and stomach pains.

I will let you know how I get on. Just one thing, is there any legal requirement for solder to contain a health warning on the packet? I'd hate to see the same thing happening to other kids.


EMAIL THREE Subject: RE: How can we get health warning labels on lead solder?
Dear Elizabeth,

I'd be happy to help. I'll write up my own experiences and send them through to Dr Matinsons, and keep you informed of progress.


ANSWER: 23 Jul 2006

Dear Tim,

I have no idea of the potential health impacts of the flux you may have ingested by chewing on electronic solder but by the sounds of it you would almost certainly have been lead poisoned. Then the question is - how much? The impacts of lead vary from person to person quite significantly and certainly are dependent on the amount taken into the body, the amount absorbed, (and thus the blood lead level), the age of the person and the duration. Being lead poisoned as a foetus or a 1-4 yr old is your worst case scenario and the brain is mostly developed to an adult level by about 7 years of age so it is the later brain development (especially the pre-frontal lobe development of, for instance, appropriate inhibition) and the effects lead has on every other organ that would be of concern. You can see some of the symptoms of lead poisoning in our factsheet at Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning and compare them to your life. If you have any of these symptoms then I would strongly recommend that you have a blood lead test done now even though you may currently have a low blood lead level - it's worth checking because about 95% of an adult's lead resides in the bones and teeth but it can be induced to leave the bones and teeth and enter the blood stream anytime during your life by particular provocations such as bone breaks, cortisone treatment, ageing etc. Lead has a 30 year half-life in bone so you will certainly take some of your solder lead to the grave with you. There are alternative doctors who would even consider treating you despite a current low blood lead level. We can put you in touch with a guy in Perth being treated for lead poisoning which occurred 25 years ago and he reckons some of his symptoms have been improved by the treatment. You can also check out to find a doctor near you who is trained to carry out chelation treatment. Even if you just stick with mainstream medicine, it would be wise for you to have regular checkups for high blood pressure and kidney damage at the very least, and to consider nutritional supplements or at least an excellent diet.

I'd be very interested to know how you go.
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

EMAIL TWO Subject: How can we get health warning labels on lead solder?

Dear Tim,

thanks for your email and the good ideas in it.

When I asked Dr Martin Matinsons, Principal Toxicologist, Western Australian Department of Health if there was a legal requirement for solder to have a health warning on the label, he replied "You can write to the Secretariat of the Committee which revises the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons (SUSDP) or I can talk to our Health Dept representative on that Committee but we'd need to have a case & put some info together re: the lead content of solder products out there or you could send the info to me to pass on."

So Tim, I was hoping that you might be interested in putting together some information for Dr Matinsons so that your excellent idea of lead solder health warning labels might one day come to fruition. The advantage of this action would be that the SUSDP is a national standard so eventually all states might comply if we can make a good enough case.

I hope to hear from you soon.
Elizabeth O'Brien

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