No Safe Level for Lead in Humans

faucetAccording to Public Health – Seattle & King County, there is no safe level for lead in humans. Although it’s found frequently in our environment, it has no known purpose in our bodies.

When lead gets inside the body, the body confuses it with calcium and other essential nutrients. This confusion can cause permanent damage to the health of both children and adults.

In children, lead is most damaging when they are six years and younger. Children grow at a very fast rate – growing bones, developing stronger muscles and creating many connections in their brain. Even at low levels, lead can be harmful and be associated with learning disabilities, speech and language impairment, decreased muscle growth, seizures and kidney damage, among other conditions.

Lead is also a concern for adults, even though they have finished growing. High levels of lead in adults can increase chances of illness or harm to the fetus during pregnancy, nerve disorders, and memory and concentration problems, among other problems.

Exposure to lead, especially for young children and infants, continues to be a significant health concern. Last month, the County Council unanimously passed my motion supporting a King County Board of Health resolution calling for steps to prevent lead poisoning.

The risks of lead exposure and poisoning – especially in children – are very real here in King County and in Washington State as a whole. Public Health of Seattle and King County estimates that more than eight thousand children in King County may have elevated blood lead levels and the state Department of Health reports that only a fraction of children exposed to lead in King County and Washington state actually receive blood lead-level tests.

Public Health – Seattle & King County and the King County Council are encouraging all King County health care providers to screen all children at ages twelve and twenty-four months for lead levels.

Lead exposure is a danger to children because growing bodies absorb proportionally more lead than adults. Incidents both locally and nationally have increased awareness of the continuing issue of lead exposure, which led the King County Board of Health to issue a call for measures to reduce potential exposure to lead.

The motion adopted last month supports measures approved by the Board of Health. Those steps include:

  • Calling on federal and state lawmakers to take meaningful action to address lead poisoning;
  • Encouraging and exploring requiring all King County health care providers to adopt Washington State Department of Health guidance for lead screening of all children at ages twelve and twenty-four months; and
  • Encouraging Washington state to update the occupational safety standards for lead in Washington state to provide greater protection for workers and their families.

Here are some links to info on lead toxicity and how to avoid exposure: