For those new to this website:
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead-poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (two of her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF technology (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February of 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
Published: September of 2014
Updated: January 7, 2017
Below is a post I originally wrote and shared in September of 2014 (slightly updated.) Hopefully you will also take a look at the links below as there are several studies of interest that may also answer your questions. As always, thank you for reading and please feel free to ask me any questions you may have.
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Are adults often poisoned? How? What does that look like?
While the primary focus of my work as a lead poisoning prevention advocate and activist has always been on lead and its toxic impacts on young children it is important to note that lead can have equally devastating impacts on adults – both younger adults and older adults.
It is also important to note that while the most talked about impact of lead in children is the neurotoxic impacts (the ability for lead to cause damage to the developing brain) – science has long shown that the brain (especially the frontal lobe and elements of the brain that are responsible for functions that we most associate with our “human-ness”—empathy, reason and judgement) is growing and developing through age 25.
Lead has also been shown to pass the blood-brain barrier, which underscores the danger of potential for profound impacts on those whose brains are still developing, regardless of age.
So the potential neurotoxic impacts of lead that are a concern for young children are also a concern for young adults through their college years.
What are the symptoms of adult lead exposure?
Just some of the potential long-term negative health impacts of exposure to lead (from both from low-level sustained residential/everyday or professional/industrial sources) include:
- Neurocognitive Impacts – including early onset Alzheimer’s, ADD/ ADHD, memory issues, difficulty concentrating
- Heart Health Compromises – including increased risk of heart-attack
- Liver & Kidney function Issues – including kidney failure and increased risk of diabetes
- Reproductive Disorders – including increased risk of miscarriage/ erectile dysfunction / inability to conceive
The above are considered “long-term” issues—as they are health effects that may not begin to show up during the specific time-frame of exposure – but [depending on the length of exposure – especially if the duration of exposure is measured in months or years (such as 1, 2, 3 or 4 years in a lead-contaminated college housing)] they have a statistically significantly higher possibility of showing up with varying levels of severity later in life as the result of an earlier exposure.
Additionally, immediate physical symptoms—of even low-level lead exposure—[especially in a sustained, daily dose, as might be caused by lead dust hazards in student housing on campus, and in the daily environment of a teacher working in school with persistent lead-hazards; lead in soil (on shoes, hands or clothing from daily gardening)] include:
- General Malaise
- Digestive Issues
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Compromised Immune System
- Joint inflammation / arthritis
- Spontaneous Abortion/ Miscarriage
- Inability to Conceive – and more
In the space below I am going to post as many links as I can find relevant to the specific concerns of later childhood/ early adulthood and ongoing adulthood lead exposure and symptoms.
If you know of a relevant study that supports the above statements, please share with me in the comments on this post.
This post was assembled to support a friend whose child was attending college and was given a mandatory housing assignment in housing that contained significant lead hazards (at a very expensive, top-notch, private, ivy-league quality university.)
Note: Frustratingly, many of the academic papers that address these concerns seem to be accessible on the Internet only under the current [expletive deleted] desperate, “fund-it-yourself” model of academic and scientific research (!), but here are a few of the relevant references that one can view without expense:
- This article is a good background on the impact of low-level lead exposure. It also discusses the impact on a child’s academic performance and has an extensive reference list at the end of the article. LINK HERE.
- Lead Exposure in Adults – A Guide for HealthCare Providers: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2584/
- 2007; Recommendations for Medical Management of Adult Lead Exposure: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/olppp/Documents/medmanagement.pdf
- Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry; Toxic Substances Portal – Lead: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=93&tid=22
- Adult Lead Poisoning: http://www.uptodate.com/contents/adult-lead-poisoning
For those just beginning this inquiry, I always recommend looking up the following researchers and their work for additional information: Dr. Bruce Lanphear, Drs. Ted Lidsky & Jay Schneider, Dr. Felicia Rabito,& Dr. Michael Kosnett.
I shared the above post with Dr. Lidsky and he responded with the following additional studies that may be of interest to my readers:
- Neurotoxicology. 2011 Jan;32(1):110-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2010.11.002. Epub 2010 Nov 17.Blood lead levels in relation to cognitive function in older U.S. adults.
van Wijngaarden E1, Winters PC, Cory-Slechta DA.
- Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Apr;118(4):505-10. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901115. Epub 2009 Nov 6.Interaction of stress, lead burden, and age on cognition in older men: the VA Normative Aging Study.Peters JL1, Weisskopf MG, Spiro A 3rd, Schwartz J, Sparrow D, Nie H, Hu H, Wright RO,Wright RJ.
- Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2009 Nov-Dec;31(6):364-71. doi: 10.1016/j.ntt.2009.08.003. Epub 2009 Aug 15. Lead and cognitive function in ALAD genotypes in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Krieg EF Jr1, Butler MA, Chang MH, Liu T, Yesupriya A, Lindegren ML, Dowling N; CDC/NCI NHANES III Genomics Working Group.
- J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2009;72(10):625-32. doi: 10.1080/15287390902769410.Neurocognitive screening of lead-exposed andean adolescents and young adults.
Counter SA1, Buchanan LH, Ortega F.
- Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Mar;115(3):483-92. Epub 2006 Dec 22.Cumulative lead dose and cognitive function in adults: a review of studies that measured both blood lead and bone lead.
Shih RA1, Hu H, Weisskopf MG, Schwartz BS.
- Effects of lead on the adult brain: a 15-year e… [Am J Ind Med. 2007] – PubMed – NCBI 2007 Oct;50(10):729-39. Effects of lead on the adult brain: a 15-year exploration. Stewart WF1,Schwartz BS.