Most doctors say a blood test is the only way to determine lead poisoning. That’s partially true. Actually, the biological half-life of lead in the blood is about 36 days, which means that a blood test is only an indicator of the extent of recent lead exposure. According to the Bone Lead Measurement Facility at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, blood-lead levels – the standard for determining lead poisoning in this country – reflect chronic exposure only if exposure is constant.
Consider this scenario: You lived in a home or apartment that was built before 1978 and were unknowingly poisoned by the lead dust created by the home’s lead paint. A year later you move to a newly built home, hear about toxic lead dust, and decide to have your blood lead levels tested. Chances are your blood lead levels will fall below levels of concern.
But you are still being poisoned because, according to Mount Sinai, the lead has traveled, hiding in your bones and teeth where it has a long half-life of 20 to 30 years. Even more disturbing is that in times of physiologic stress, including pregnancy and lactation, the stored lead in your bones and teeth can travel back to your blood and affect your unborn child or infant.
Why should you care? Lead poisoning is a major public health problem in the United States, claiming victims from all walks of life, not only the inner city. In children, lead poisoning causes brain damage, ADD/ADHD, autism-like symptoms, loss of IQ, increased tendency to violence, nervous system and kidney damage, poor muscle coordination, decreased muscle and bone growth, speech and language problems, and as children age, delinquent and antisocial behavior. In men, lead poisoning causes decreased sex drive, sterility, and impotence; and in women, decreased fertility, the ability to sustain pregnancy, stillbirth, miscarriage, low-birth weight and pre-term delivery.
Eileen E. Brinker, an artist from Utah, detailed her lead poisoning ordeal in her blog, “from an otherwise sane perspective.” Brinker recently discovered she was poisoned by lead, which happened years ago when she worked for a real estate firm and spent her days sanding lead-based paint in the company’s rentals. Her list of medical issues include rotting teeth, headaches, and bouts of mental illness throughout her life
So what to do? The first line of defense is to have your pre-1978 built home tested for lead paint by a certified environmental testing company. Once you know where lead is hiding, you can take corrective steps to rid your home of lead. Next, schedule a blood test, especially if your lead exposure is recent. For long-term lead exposure testing, the bone lead X-ray fluorescence test at Mount Sinai is the only option available now, a relatively new technique for measuring long-term lead exposure.