Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Dr. John Rosen, whose efforts to identify, treat, and prevent lead poisoning in New York City resulted in a nationwide awareness of the condition, has died of colon cancer, The New York Times reports. From Rosen’s obituary:
When he arrived at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in 1969, Dr. Rosen was mainly interested in how children’s bodies absorb calcium. But within a few years, concerned about the levels of lead he was seeing in his young patients and knowing that lead poisoning diminished mental capacities irreversibly, he embarked on a mission. Dr. Rosen helped establish one of the nation’s first and largest clinics for the treatment of lead poisoning; he personally supervised the treatment of 30,000 children. In one advance, he developed X-ray techniques for measuring lead in children’s bodies.
He went on to push New York City to adopt stricter standards for removing lead paint from tens of thousands of older buildings. (The use of lead paint had been outlawed in 1978.) In 1991 he led a committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that lowered the threshold at which children are considered to be poisoned by lead, to 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood from 60 micrograms.
But even that threshold was too high, Dr. Rosen believed, and he immediately began lobbying to reduce it further. This year, the C.D.C. halved it to 5 micrograms. The change could not help those who had lead in their bodies, but it sounded an alarm that even infinitesimal quantities of lead could be dangerous.
“It’s about time,” Dr. Rosen said.
He cited his own and others’ studies showing that lead poisoning harms a person’s ability to think and plan, as well as physical coordination. For a child with an I.Q. of 85, he said, lead exposure “could mean the difference between a menial job in a fast-food restaurant or a meaningful career.”
Dr. Rosen’s ambition was to eventually eradicate lead poisoning by eliminating exposure to lead altogether, in the manner that vaccines reduced the incidence of polio to almost none. He served on committees of the National Academy of Sciences and urged spending tens of billions of dollars to remove old lead paint from tens of millions of homes, calculating that lead exposure harmed far more children than asbestos.
Landlords and some government officials disputed the need for such a large-scale effort, arguing that lead poisoning had dropped sharply in recent decades as lead was removed from gasoline and that the use of lead paint had abated.
Dr. Rosen often testified in suits against property owners, leading some to suggest that his crusade was motivated by the prospect of personal financial gain from payments by plaintiffs’ lawyers.
He also had critics in the news media. In 2003 Andrew Wolf, then a columnist for The New York Sun, argued that the war against lead poisoning had been won and accused Dr. Rosen of practicing political, not medical, science. In 1992, Newsday questioned whether he was a “well-meaning prophet or merely an alarmist.”
Dr. Rosen replied: “I am not an alarmist. I cannot keep quiet when kids’ futures are at stake.”
Image: Peeling, lead-based paint, via Shutterstock
Friday, August 3rd, 2012
A Nigerian folk remedy in which a lead-based cosmetic is applied to children’s eyelids was identified by doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital as the cause of a case of severe lead poisoning. The discovery has led the hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release a national warning that some other cultural folk practices might lead to similar incidents. The Boston Globe reports:
[The Nigerian boy's] family believed it would make the boy more attractive and improve his vision. The child suffered no apparent harm, but now the case is prompting an alert from federal health officials about the risk of heavy metal poisoning from folk remedies found in many immigrant cultures.
A report Thursday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention details the puzzle solved by specialists at Children’s Hospital and highlights the number of cultures, including Asian, African, and Middle Eastern, that use similar products that may contain lead.
CDC officials advised obstetricians, pediatricians, midwives, and other health care professionals to discuss this potential health risk with patients during prenatal and early childhood medical visits.
Lead can harm the brain, kidneys, and nervous system, and children are particularly sensitive. Even low levels of lead can make it hard for them to learn, pay attention, and behave, according to health officials.
Friday, July 20th, 2012
The state of California is bringing a lawsuit against 16 companies that make jewelry marketed to children because the companies’ products violate the state’s limits on how much lead a product can contain. The Associated Press has more:
State investigators uncovered hundreds of lead-laced trinkets marketed to children and adults, including some pieces contaminated with lead levels more than 1,000 times the legal state limit.
The state was expected to file a lawsuit Tuesday against 16 companies — retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and distributors — doing business in Los Angeles and elsewhere. The companies are accused of violating lead standards and engaging in deceptive practices by falsely advertising tainted jewelry as lead-free.
For the past three years, inspectors at the state Department of Toxic Substances Control conducted spot checks at stores and factories, zapping necklaces, earrings, hair clips and tiaras with hand-held X-ray devices to check for lead. Items with high lead content were then shipped to a laboratory for detailed analysis. Jewelry items containing the toxic metal were mostly inexpensive.
Image: Girl’s bracelet, via Shutterstock.
Thursday, May 17th, 2012
Under new guidelines that will lower the threshold for what can be called “lead poisoning,” more than 365,000 more children in the U.S. will be considered at risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday. Even as the announcement was made, though, the CDC made it clear that it does not have the funding to implement programs to help prevent lead exposure or poisoning in children. USA Today has more:
In an important shift, the CDC cut in half the amount of lead that will trigger medical monitoring and other actions in children ages 1 to 5. It’s the first time in more than 20 years that the CDC has revised its action level on lead poisoning.
Now any child with more than 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood will be considered at risk. This afternoon, the CDC said the new guidelines increase the patient population nationwide to about 442,000 from about 77,000 using the latest available data. (The CDC had previously said about 250,000 were affected under the current standard.)
The new levels come with a huge caveat. The CDC doesn’t “have the funding, staff or control over the means to implement” them, it said in a statement. “A commitment to implement actions cannot be made due to our lack of control over available resources.”
The CDC’s funding for lead-poisoning prevention was slashed 94% this year by Congress, from $29 million in fiscal year 2011 to $2 million. The CDC is reducing staff in its Lead Poisoning Prevention Program from 26 to six full-time employees.
John Belt of the Ohio Department of Health said his funding for lead prevention programs “went from $1.3 million to $594,000 and then from $594,000 to zero.”
According to the CDC, lead poisoning mainly comes from flaking paint or dust from paint that was applied before 1978, when lead was banned from house paint. Young children are of particular risk because they put so many things into their mouths. Parents can prevent lead poisoning by testing home surfaces for lead, keeping dusty or peeling paint away from play areas, and having children’s lead levels checked regularly by a pediatrician.
Image: Paint flaking from window, via Shutterstock.
Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
Garden hoses, gloves, and even shovels have been found to contain toxic chemicals including lead, phthalates, and bisphenol A or BPA, research from the environmental group HealthyStuff.org has found. Families who spend time in the garden should take note, as these chemicals have been linked to birth defects and hormonal changes after prolonged exposure.
Thirty percent of the 179 garden products tested contained more than 100 parts per million of lead, which is Consumer Product Safety Commission Standard (CPSC) for lead in children’ products. Water sitting outside in a new garden hose for a couple of days was measured with 18 times the allowable lead level.
“Even if you are an organic gardener, doing everything you can to avoid pesticides and fertilizers, you still may be introducing hazardous substances into your soil by using these products,” said Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center in a press release for HealthyStuff.org. “The good news is that healthier choices are out there. Polyurethane or natural rubber water hoses, and non-PVC tools and work gloves, are all better choices.”
The group urges parents to take the following steps to have a safer garden:
- Read the labels: Avoid hoses with a California Prop 65 warning that says “this product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” Buy hoses that are “drinking water safe” and “lead-free”.
- Let it run: Always let your hose run for a few seconds before using, since the water that’s been sitting in the hose will have the highest levels of chemicals.
- Avoid the sun: Store your hose in the shade. The heat from the sun can increase the leaching of chemicals from the PVC into the water.
- Don’t drink water from a hose: Unless you know for sure that your hose is drinking water safe, don’t drink from it. Even low levels of lead may cause health problems.
- Buy a PVC-free hose: Polyurethane or natural rubber hoses are better choices.
Image: Garden hose, via Shutterstock.