To the reporter who interviewed me for an article today:
Your question was, “Why aren’t children getting tested (given the pervasiveness of lead exposure)?” I gave you some short answers in our call— but here’s my longer answer.
“Why aren’t children getting tested for Lead?”
- If you don’t think your children are “at risk”, you won’t get them tested.
- If your doctor doesn’t think your children are “at risk” they’ll never recommend testing.
- However, if both you and your doctor know that in reality all children are “at risk” of Lead-poisoning – you WILL get tested!
Comparing Lead to CoViD-19.
As an instructive analogy, think about what’s happening now with the corona virus that causes CoViD-19 – it does not care what color your skin is, or what your political beliefs are, or whether you live in a big city or a small town, or a magnificent mansion or a modest apartment – you just need to have been sufficiently exposed to become infected.
Exposure is the common thread.
Lead is an unbelievably toxic substance… the amount of Lead it takes to poison a child is literally microscopic; a child does not need to play with, touch or eat a paint chip to be poisoned. While (rarely) children can be poisoned from ingesting a paint chip, the idea that it takes “eating paint chips” to poison a child is a myth. Just living in an older building and breathing the invisible Lead-contaminated micro-dust perpetually created from old (commonly-Lead-painted) original windows and doors is enough to poison ANY child.
While it is true that low-income families and people of color are typically disproportionally exposed to and more vulnerable to the impact of ALL environmental hazards in our society [an example: in the case of Lead exposure an extra burden is posed by the fact that packing up and leaving a Lead-contaminated house once your child has been poisoned is often an insurmountable financial barrier for low-income families], Lead-poisoning does not discriminate; it is an “equal-opportunity toxicant” — exposure risk is solely correlated to the AGE of dwellings and other structures, and thus whether any interior and/or exterior surfaces were painted or finished with Leaded coatings!
Today “CoViD-19” has about a 3% positivity rate in New York City and schools are being shut down.
- Lead-poisoning causes irreversible (permanent) brain damage, and impacts every system of the body.
- Lead is an extremely neurotoxic poison.
- If you set the bar at an appropriately low Blood Lead Level (BLL) – a level that has been confirmed to cause long-term harm — like a BLL of 2.0 micrograms of Lead per deciliter of blood or thereabouts, Lead likely has at least a thirty percent positivity rate in cities like New York —30% positivity or higher!
Kids are not getting tested because the majority of people think it’s not “their” problem.
Even with 1 in 3 American kids (children under the age of 18) today likely having had a BLL of 2.5 or higher at some point in their childhood (link), thanks to more than 100 years of industry influence shaping societal perceptions and impacting policymaking around the issue — there is a pervasive cultural myth [perpetuated by the “creative” framing of the narrative and numbers shared publicly by the CDC] that just a small percentage of children are exposed – and that there is a certain “demographic” – correlative of a subgroup of children who are more likely to be exposed to Lead (certain “others“, whose children are “at risk“…poor children; or children of color; or children living in sub-standard, dilapidated, or poorly-maintained housing, etc).
These myths (along with the myths that Lead only affects children below a certain age; or children whose parents are “uneducated,” “ignorant”, or who “do not practice sufficient housecleaning”, or are otherwise somehow neglectful; or that “a child would have to eat paint chips” to be poisoned) were actually created and promulgated by the Lead industry. My film discusses this in depth (link below.)
“Why children are not getting tested” is actually one of the main issues I’ve been trying to address with my advocacy work these past 13+ years (since I started being a publicly vocal advocate for childhood Lead-poisoning prevention and awareness in 2007, two years after my children were poisoned.)
Fundamentally the bigger question is:
How can you change societal perceptions…
- … so everyone gets tested?
- … so the true scope of the number of poisoned kids is revealed?…
- … so people collectively are forced to wake up and give a shit? & …
- … so real change happens in terms of Lead-hazards awareness; safe renovation and remediation of older houses, schools, bridges, and other structures; consumer goods regulation; and global regulations and limits on the mining, refining, manufacture, and recycling of Lead.?
- … so that children are finally protected from being poisoned BEFORE this preventable tragedy befalls them and their family (maybe a generation or two from now?)
My response to this conundrum: three things I am personally doing that seem to be making a difference:
- Test consumer goods and share those results freely with the public. If someone sees that their dishes or other cherished personal items have unsafe levels of Lead, they may be motivated to dig deeper into the issue and learn more about the concern.
- Make it personal; share personal stories. With my “Ten Minutes with Tamara” YouTube series (& my film), I am sharing stories from the mouths of parents of Lead-poisoned kids. Personal stories are always more compelling and engaging – especially to young parents eagerly scouring the Web, seeking effective and proven ways to protect their children in our post-industrial toxicant-laden world. Knowing that other smart, caring, well-educated parents are dealing with the aftermath of their children being poisoned helps parents new to the issue to not feel so guilty and alone in this journey.
- Help people to understand why and how this impacts them personally. I’m doing this through my blog, my film and my social media channels and inviting others – especially those working in public agencies – to use these same tools to reach more families.
Through these compelling engaging channels, families get the information they need that then encourages them (inspires them) to get their children (& home & water & schools & soil) tested.
Some additional links that I promised to share with the reporter:
- My earlier post about the Lead industry using systemic racism to their advantage.
- A supporting piece about the above — written in 1971 (when I was two!)
- My video of my recent interview with my 15-year-old son, Avi (talking about the impact of Lead exposure on him personally.)
- The link to a free, fine-cut screener of my entire film (for readers who have not watched it yet).
- The link to the Economic Impact Report about the health cost impacts of childhood Lead exposure (conservative estimate.) Dr. Leonardo Trasand, NYU Medical Center
- The article I wrote about the impacts of trace low-level Lead-exposure on women of childbearing age (discussing the work of Dr. Felicia Rabito at Tulane).
- My post about how much Lead in dust it takes to poison a child; the “sugar packet” example.
- A terrific (& incredibly well-researched) article from 2007 (shared on my blog with permission) about the impact of low-level Lead-exposure on children.
Not “my” information! Not “my” ideas!
Another important point I shared with the reporter during this interview yesterday is that most of the thoughts and ideas and correlative concerns about Lead that I share on my blog are not “my opinions”; they are not “my” ideas. Most of the ideas, concepts and conclusions I share are not even “new” — they reflect the contemporary consensus – based on indisputable facts – among the top scientists, historians, epidemiologists and other researchers in the fields related to childhood Lead-poisoning prevention.
An important goal of my blog (and my advocacy work as a whole) is to give scientific findings and ideas and this research a broader audience, to bring public attention to these important ideas and facts when (in most instances) the press hasn’t historically jumped at the opportunity. Everything I share on this blog is solidly backed by science (unless I explicitly state that a particular bit of information in a particular article has not been well-studied yet, and that it merits further study.)
Thanks for being here. Thanks for reading and sharing my posts. As always – if anyone has any questions please let me know and I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment.
Sue Fowlkes says
Thanks for all your good info! Hang in there!
My question: I have a 12-pc set of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware in the all-white Heritage pattern. Do you know what the lead percentage might be?
Lorisa Seibel says
With so many sources of lead, I encourage all parents to get young children tested for lead at ages 1, 2, & keep testing until lead levels are <1. I hope all doctors recommend lead testing of all children. Governments should help lower income families remove lead hazards or move into lead-safe homes. QUESTION: I know children can swallow lead after touching dust on floors & sills near old windows & doors. But how does lead get in the air? You wrote: "Just living in an older building and breathing the invisible Lead-contaminated micro-dust perpetually created from old (commonly-Lead-painted) original windows and doors is enough to poison ANY child." Thanks.
I don’t see testing results for the Heritage pattern by Pfaltzgraff on Tamara’s website yet. If you’d like to send in a dish for testing, here is some info: https://tamararubin.com/2019/08/tamara-can-i-send-you-one-of-my-dishes-to-test-for-lead/
What about the lead pencils students use in schools? Dishes containing lead?
That is not Lead – pencils have graphite.