Originally posted: November 15, 2013
On our Facebook page today – a follower (Lori Campbell) read the tag-line for our Kickstarter campaign for the film:
“Why are “ADD”, “ADHD” & “Autism” approaching epidemic levels in the U.S.?
Find out @MisLEADMovie 1 in 3 U.S. kids has been poisoned.”
Lori then posed this question:
“So, if lead were the cause of this spectrum of disorders why is it just now becoming an epidemic? Lead was used for plumbing for centuries… chemical name for lead is plumbum.”
Here’s my response:
To be clear—while lead has been incontrovertibly determined to be the cause of some (millions) of these cases, no one is claiming that it is the sole cause of all of them. And while I think the film does a really good job of covering this (using expert scientific interviews), in addition to saying “for the answer, go see the film”, I offer the following:
In point of fact, the lead found in pipes is not always a problem. There are several confounding factors, including water additives and water “hardness.” Many mistakenly believe that in Roman times, people were poisoned by the lead in the water – from the water delivery systems. Recent forensic analysis has determined that this was likely not the the source of the lead poisoning (that was factually a huge factor in the fall of the Roman empire); in fact – due to water “hardness” and the resultant calcification of the pipes along the water delivery system (the famous Roman aquaducts) the leaded pipes were quickly coated with a layer of calcification that largely protected the water from being contaminated with lead en-route. It is now believed that the poisoning of the Roman Empire’s aristocracy was more likely due to the powdered lead that they fashionably added to their food and wine as a sweetener(!) This “Sugar of Lead” was discovered in great concentrations in their wine casks and elsewhere, and historians have now confirmed that it was indeed intentionally added (which would have also resulted in much higher concentrations and more significant poisoning than may have occurred as a result of lead leaching from the water delivery systems.)
Today however, we do have new problems with lead from water delivery systems… One of the most upsetting (as we are creating it in the same way the Romans created their own downfall by adding lead to their wine) is the addition of a combination of chloramine and fluoride to our drinking water. It has been demonstrated that the combined result of adding both chloramine and fluoride to our water supply can cause up to a 900% increase in the leaching and creation of bio-available lead from leaded pipes, fittings, fixtures and meters* along the path of the water delivery systems to our homes.
In spite of this significant source of potential lead-exposure, lead-contaminated water (which is still a major problem) is not nearly as ubiquitous in 2013 as lead in household dust and soil – especially in our more densely populated urban communities.
As a result of an enormous wave of gentrification of our housing stock in the past 10-20-30 years, lead dust in our homes and soil from paint-based sources has skyrocketed. Now in 2013 we are also experiencing the first wave of deterioration of painted surfaces in homes that were painted with lead paint in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. This lead-paint was applied decades ago and intended to last a lifetime—and it did. Here we are – a lifetime (73 years) later, and it is deteriorating now, for the very first time.
This is a new problem for this generation—much more significant and more wide-spread than the possibly more visible and seemingly more tragic wave of poisoning in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the early part of the last century, smaller numbers of children were being poisoned—but were often dying from exposure to lead in paint (and in mining and manufacturing operations). Among documented cases, the blood lead levels were higher—but also impacted a much smaller segment of the population. Now we have nearly 80,000,000 homes in the United States that were built before the ban on lead-paint; this is a huge portion of our housing stock that in many cases is just now aging out of the original finishes – including in many cases, finishes containing very high levels of lead. This is responsible for a new wave of illness—far more subtle perhaps than a century ago (when both acute and chronic exposure to lead—before the advent of emergency chelation—each routinely resulted in death!)
It is medical advances in reducing childhood and adult fatalities among lead-poisoning victims that has allowed the lead industry to successfully persuade politicians and in turn the American public to buy into their narrative that “lead poisoning is no longer a significant problem”, with the attendant fading from the headlines and memory, for a generation, of any real concern about the dangers of lead—hence the “secret” impacting millions of American children over the past few decades.
The science is solid. Research the work of Lidsky, Schnieder, Lanphear and Needleman to start—and then see my film, MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic (when it comes out!)
Thank you Lori for your thoughtful question. Please let me know if this answers it sufficiently.
*lead is still found in many fixtures that contain brass—while brass does not always contain lead (not all brass is the same—tin, zinc and antimony are other common constituents from which brass alloys can be made), it often does, and in a surprising/disturbing Orwellian twist, under current Federal law “lead-free” fixtures can contain “up to 8% lead“! [Thankfully, in 2014/2015 new legislation is finally going to end this absurdity!]