Worse Than Flint: California’s Huge Lead Problem

While lead has been banned for gasoline, paint and water pipes, there is still too much lead, especially in older urban neighborhoods in Fresno, California; Flint, Michigan and cities across the country.

Lead has been banned from gasoline, paint and water pipes yet still exists in urban areas, in houses painted earlier than 1978 and around lead mines. “Prevention should be the single most important way of dealing with lead poisoning,” said Maria Samakouri, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Democritus University of Thrace and the University General Hospital of Alexandroupolis, Greece.

Lead can also be found in certain home remedies, imported pottery, candy, spices and cosmetics, according to the California Department of Public Health. Lead damages the brain, nerves, red blood cells, kidneys and reproductive systems. Lead can also cause high blood pressure and miscarriages because it easily crosses the placenta in a pregnant woman. Children who are exposed to lead may have problems learning and paying attention. Damage from lead exposure can be permanent.

The only way to know if there is lead in your body is to have a blood lead test. One- and two-year old children should be tested. The main treatment for lead poisoning is to remove the person from the place where they were exposed and allow the body to clear the lead.

Lead poisoning affects brain cells, nerve receptors and brain chemistry including dopamine levels (affected in Parkinson’s disease), acetylcholine (affected in Myasthenia gravis and Alzheimer’s disease) and glutamate (implicated in autism, antisocial behavior, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, and periventricular leukomalacia—injury to the white matter of the brain).

Early symptoms of lead poisoning and its effect on the brain are irritability, headaches and concentration issues in both children and adults. Continuous exposure in children may result in the inability to follow instructions, difficulty playing games and low IQ. The most common symptom in adults is peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain and damage) with foot drop or the inability to lift the toes when walking.

CDC recommended lead poisoning prevention methods include removing layers of paint from before 1978 that may contain lead, exercising caution when renovating older homes, drinking only cold tap water since hot water can leach more lead from lead water pipes, and administering blood tests to children under six  if there is a chance they are being exposed to lead.


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