The results of last week’s venous blood test came back Friday, indicating our daughter now has 6.6 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. That’s a bit of welcome good news, since it’s a significant reduction from the 13 or 14 indicated by her preliminary screenings three months ago.
Had to stretch a bit, but there’s a mix for this occasion too.
However, let’s not rush to celebrate too quickly. It’s not a clean bill of health. There are still multiple reasons for concern.
For one thing, there’s never been a lower limit established for lead exposure. It seems any amount has been associated with cognitive deficits, so the only truly good number is zero. However, zero is not realistic, at least not for us, perhaps not for anyone. The Centers for Disease Control have established the level of concern at ten, but even they admit that’s somewhat arbitrary. It’s just a nice round number. Some scientists believe it should be lowered to five.
Another cause for concern is that blood tests such as this only measure recent exposure. The insidious thing about lead and other heavy metals is that they get stored in body tissues long-term. Lead gets into the bones and can hang around for a very long time, affecting development. There is some grim clinical evidence suggesting that once a level of lead exposure is attained, the damage is done, and subsequent lowering of levels in the blood doesn’t really help much.
We still don’t know where our daughter is/was getting lead into her system. The most frequent way kids in old houses get exposed is through lead paint dust, which is indistinguishable from regular household dust. Young bodies metabolize lead at something like five times the rate of adults, and we are talking about really small amounts here. Lead is measured in micrograms, which is about 1/1000th of a grain of sugar. Trying to control for something that small is enough to drive a person crazy.
Over the past three months we’ve taken several steps. I remediated the doorjamb. We stopped bathing the girl in our old clawfoot tub; in fact, we’ve stopped even letting her in the upstairs bathroom. We pretty much have kept her out of the back yard, too. We switched her from tap to bottled Kentwood water. We take our shoes off when we come in the house. Xy’s been mopping religiously every other weekend. All of these efforts may have resulted in the lowering of her blood lead level — but we don’t really know for sure. We’ll never really know.
To address the accumulation of lead in body tissue, I’ve had her on a mild regimen of cilantro and chlorella extract. I put a few drops in her water and she thinks it’s “juice.” Cilantro is supposed to get the lead out of the tissues and back in the bloodstream; chlorella is supposed to bind with heavy metals and promote their excretion. There is some clinical evidence to support this, and I figure any harmful side-effects should be minimal. After all it’s just a little herb and algae.
So to reiterate, 6.6 is not a clean bill of health but it is a step in the right direction. This latest result does give us reason to hope that maybe, someday, things will be alright.
If you’ve read this far perhaps you’ll indulge me as I verge political. I was listening to a talk radio pundit the other day. He was talking about Lil Wayne, who recently copped a plea to “attempted possession of a weapon in the second degree,” whatever that means. He was worried that our right to carry firearms was being impinged upon. He brought up the notion of what you’d do if someone kicked in your door and assaulted your family. He responded preemptively to critics who say we are overprotective of our children. Sure, he said, maybe it’s a vanishingly small minority of families who actually experience the nightmare door-kicked-in scenario, but it’s exactly these folks we must consider as a matter of public policy.
OK, let’s say we grant the door-kicking bogeyman legitimate status for purposes of developing public policy, despite the fact that we recognize his statistical improbability. What then should be our attitude toward factors which are less theoretical? What should we do about threats to the safety of our children which are not only ubiquitous but entirely preventable? In fact public health policies have been enormously successful in reducing the amount of lead poisoning in children, but we could still do better.
For example, there have been several times over the last months when I or my neighbors have been alarmed by people dry-sanding their old homes, letting lead-paint dust fly everywhere. This isn’t technically illegal here (though it probably should be) but there are ordinances specifying safety procedures that are generally ignored. Getting the city to enforce even its own weak laws is difficult at best.
I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re not going to take real environmental threats seriously and act accordingly, don’t come talking to me about bogeymen. I offer this as someone who lost a friend to a gun-wielding home invader. I know that sometimes the bogeyman is real, and we have to confront the problem of violence. But it’s not the only problem we face. Unless a person also takes these other threats seriously, I’m liable to dismiss that person as a posturing hypocrite, a fear-monger looking for cheap political points.
It’s much easier to get people riled up over an imaginary assailant than an invisible toxin. But which is really the greater threat?