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  QUESTION: Is it possible that my brother and I could have reduced intelligence, or other problems, because our mother had lead poisoning? 25 Aug 2006, Queensland Australia

My grandfather was a house painter, working with lead paints. My mother was born with lead poisoning which was recognised at an early age. She had treatment until her early teens when she was apparently cured.
I notice that reduced intelligence is one of the outcomes of lead poisoning, among other things.
Is it possible that my brother and I could have reduced intelligence, or other problems, because our mother had lead poisoning. I suppose what I am asking is, does lead poisoning alter DNA? Also, does the effects continue to go down through the generations?
ANSWER: 25 Aug 2006

Dear Beverley,
The situation that you described with your mother being diagnosed early in life as having been born with lead poisoning is extremely interesting to me because I have never heard of such a thing happening so long ago (I am assuming that you are at least 14 years old and that your mother was at least 16 when you were born so we are talking about at least 30 years ago). Was it determined that the source of your mother's lead was the dust that your grandfather brought home (or created at home if he also sanded his own house) from his paint preparation work? Or was there some other source of lead identified?
It is also something I have never heard of that a person would be treated for lead poisoning for more than a dozen years. I have certainly heard of lead workers who have been treated intermittently for around 5 years but what you describe is extraordinary. I would be extremely grateful if you were able to email all the details of your mother's case history so that we might web-publish it as a fascinating example of lead poisoning case management from earlier times. Do you know if any of the details of her case were ever published anywhere?
To answer your questions, in an individual, it is impossible to measure a reduction in IQ brought about by lead exposure, whereas, by comparing children's IQs as they age to their blood lead levels at various ages over a large group of study participants, it is possible to determine the critical age, extent and duration of lead poisoning which is associated with particular IQ losses. From these longitudinal epidemiological studies the following results have been found:
  1. foetal lead poisoning increases the risk of schizophrenia [see Schizophrenia link to lead petrol]
  2. "Blood lead levels in the fetus are up to 90 percent of those in the pregnant mother since lead readily crosses the placenta. In addition, lead accumulates in bone tissue and may be released from bone during pregnancy, leading to fetal lead poisoning. The effects of lead exposure on a fetus include low birth weight, birth defects, and slow/abnormal development (US EPA 1997d). At high levels of exposure, lead causes spontaneous abortions and stillbirths, and was used to induce abortions in the past (Schettler et. al 1996)." [see and then search for fetal lead poisoning]
  3. "lead toxicity can induce a variety of chromatid and chromosome breaks." [see Klaassen, CD (2001) ‘Casarett and Doull’s Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons’, 6th Edition, p.13, published by McGraw Hill, United States]
  4. Maternal Bone Lead as an Independent Risk Factor for Fetal Neurotoxicity: A Prospective Study - Abstract, Ahmed Gomaa, Howard Hu, David Bellinger, Joel Schwartz, Shirng-Wern Tsaih, Teresa Gonzalez-Cossio, Lourdes Schnaas, Karen Peterson, Antonio Aro and Mauricio Hernandez-Avila. Pediatrics Vol. 110 No. 1 July 1, 2002 pp. 110 -118. You may access the full article for 2 days for US$12.00

"Higher maternal trabecular bone lead levels constitute an independent risk factor for impaired mental development in infants at 24 months of age. This effect is probably attributable to mobilization of maternal bone lead stores, a phenomenon that may constitute a significant public health problem in view of the long residence time of lead in bone." [see attached]

I hope this has answered your question but I would very much like to hear from you again.
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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