Monday, August 19, 2013

On Leaded Ground: an update on lead poisoning

I feel as though I am beating my head against a brick wall and I am not holding out a lot of hope that I will pinpoint the source of lead that is poisoning my Ellie Bear.

Using the home testing kit, I have investigated: the paint on the window-sills, an old set of blinds, the built-in shelves, the doors near the hinges, and the metal casings on the windows. You must thoroughly clean each site and be sure to scrape down through all layers of paint/glaze so my house has some scratched up, notched out doors, shelves, and window sills.  I also tested: her baby dolls, puzzles, flashcards, Little People from a consignment sale, dishes, cups, straws, and utensils.   I tested all of her chewy tubes as well. It was really quite morbid--I had to carve out pieces of the baby doll and her Little People, etc to get through all layers of vinyl/plastic/paint.  
Everything has come up negative.  Of course, there can always be false negatives.

The only thing that I have discovered is just how disgustingly dirty our house is.

I am confident that our house is safe given the results of the home test kit and the fact that our house was built after 1978.  However, I still have surrounding soil and the elementary school to investigate.  Additionally, I had my lead levels checked and I have no lead in my blood so I am thinking that our pipes are okay.

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting phone call with The Texas Department of Health and Human Services.  Interesting because I cannot figure out exactly what happened.  This woman, while very kind, seemed somewhat knowledgeable, but also did not speak in cohesive sentences and seemed to give out some inappropriate advice.  I did take away the following:

  • Her lead levels are high, but not high enough for the Department of Health to test our house.  
  • We should retest in 6 months to see to see if her body is flushing out the lead or if she is being continually exposed.
  • We also don't know when Ellie was exposed as it takes anywhere from weeks to years for lead to build up in the blood.
  • Apparently, my daughter may have anemia or thalassemia.  She should see hematology.  Ummmm, okay.  I get the anemia part as iron and lead compete for the same binding sites in the blood and lead tends to win out so you have less iron in the blood--hence the development of iron-deficiency anemia.  Yet, I am not sure why she is thinking thalassemia though and her explanation didn't really ring evidence-based to me.
  • More children from Ellie's class must show signs of lead poisoning or have lab-verified high levels of lead in their blood before the school will be tested by the Department of Health.
  • Schools do not keep records.  Well they might.  Yet, they may not be available.  We may need a lawyer to access the results.  But we may not.  But they probably don't have a record.  She isn't sure who I would contact to get this information--I told you it was an interesting conversation.
  • Lead tastes sweet so it is not uncommon for kids to be naturally drawn to materials with lead in them.
  • There is a theory that children with Down syndrome and children with autism have missing cellular villi in their gut (the tiny little hairs in the intestines).  These missing villi affect the absorption of lead.
  • Ellie may need a bronchoscopy if she swallowed an object made with lead.  This would not be covered by insurance unless her lead levels were in the 200s, which they are not. 

With regards to the school, Ellie's class is full of children under the age of 6 who have speech delays, behavioral issues, and other developmental delays--all signs of lead toxicity.  The question is: are these delays exacerbated by lead or are these delays apart of their underlying disorder /syndrome/ illeness?  I will be talking to her teacher and contacting the parents from last year to notify them of Ellie's elevated lead levels so that they may have their children tested.  I plan to speak with the principal to find out if her school has been tested for lead in the past and how I could access those results.

I will also be stealing soil from the school's playground and sending that out for testing.  This costs money.  I am not sure how much, but I think it would be well worth it.

Many of you have asked about certain supplements to help the body rid itself of lead. A sort of natural detox or chelation therapy.

The kind lady that I spoke with at the Department of Health who was just spouting off random things kept telling us to generously supplement Ellie with iron until she gets constipated and her stools turn black. And then to keep on supplementing.  Iron likes to hang out in the red blood cells [RBC]. This is good.  RBCs carry oxygen around to the cells and you want those bad boys functioning properly. The binding sites in RBCs tend to prefer lead over iron.  This means that the body excretes iron and the lead accumulates in the blood.  This is not good.  Being tired and pale are signs of iron-deficiency anemia.    A simple CBC [complete blood count] can tell you if your child has anemia.  My concern about flooding Ellie with iron supplements is this--iron toxicity [the signs of iron toxicity are quite scary and include intestinal damage such as bloody vomit, seizures, coma, liver damage, and clotting problems].  Her PCP did not recommend iron supplements because Ellie does not have anemia, but some health care providers might and it is all dependent upon the results of your child's blood work.  Again, do not run out and buy iron supplements unless our child's PCP tells you to.

If you are advised to supplement with iron, administer it with Vitamin C, such as a glass of orange juice.  The Vitamin C helps aide the absorption of Iron.  Milk, on the other hand, decreases the absorption.  This stands to reason that foods with Vitamin C such as citrus, berries, and many veggies, will help iron bind to sites in the RBCs and possibly displace the lead.  Therefore, lowing lead levels.

Just as lead can be floating around in the blood, it can also accumulate in the bones.  There are thoughts that Vitamin D actually increases the lead levels where as other studies suggest it lowers lead levels.  Talk about confusing!  That is because it is the same for calcium as it is for iron.  Calcium requires Vitamin D to help deposit itself into the bones.  Low Vitamin D means, less calcium absorption, and therefore weaker bones.  When calcium displaces lead from the bones, the lead is released into the blood. Most of the studies I have read recommend Vitamin D3 supplements along with a diet high in calcium. (Remember back when Bear had rickets/ very low Vitamin D levels?!)

I also read that Selenium, Cilantro, and Garlic have also been proven to reduce heavy metal (i.e. lead, mercury) levels in chickens. I wonder if the same can be said for humans?

Again, before starting any supplement, please speak with your child's health care provider.

Right now I am sticking with an over-the-counter multi-vitamin and Vitamin D3 while maintaining a diet rich in fruits (veggies when I can sneak them in) and iron-fortified bread products and dairy for Ellie. The Bear is predominantly a vegetarian.  She is clearly not my child nor a true Texan.  Otherwise, I would make sure she gets some healthy proteins in the form of chicken, turkey, and brisket.

I would also like to share with you potential sources of lead that friends have suggested:

  • Playground equipment with chipped paint
  • Sandboxes 
  • Toy jewelry
  • Hand-me-down toys, consignment shop toys, toys where you do not know how old they are
  • Toys from China
  • Toys at the school
  • Non-Crayola Chalk
  • Wires from lamps and extension cords
  • Plumbing-the lead soldering joining copper pipes together
  • Glaze on bathtubs

At this point, I would not be surprised if we never found the source of lead.  It could be an accumulation of lead from several areas seeing as Bear likes to mouth objects and taste sand from playgrounds.  It could be the school, but it could also be a playground.  It could still also be our home-from leaded soil tracked into our house.

*Please note that this post does not substitute any medical advice from your child's health care provider.  This post is to share my experience and only that. If you have concerns that your child has elevated lead levels, please contact your child's pediatrician.  Please do not stop or start any medications or supplements without speaking with your child's health care provider.*



  1. Oh my goodness! (I know it's not the point of the post, but I laughed at your comment that Ellie's not a true Texan. We love meat in Texas!)

    You have done a lot of testing. I hope that you're able to figure out whatever it is.

    1. Thanks, Deborah! Hey, it is okay to laugh! Sometimes that is all we can do. I still cannot figure out why she won't eat meat. Every once in a while she will try it and eat A LOT but by every once in a while I mean every 6 months or so!

  2. very scary!
    Our daughter was chewing on her bedframe, she would hide the chips(that she didn't eat) in toys or under her bed, the bed was wooden and who knows what kind of chemicals were used since it came from China :( Thankfully after a lead test her levels came back low enough to not be a major concern, but we got rid of that bed.
    Does Ellie have any wooden furniture or blocks?

    1. Bed frame! I didn't think of that. Ellie has been out of the bed for over a year now, but she used to chew on the railing as well. Hmmmm

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  4. Hey! I just found a line of kid's frozen meals at the grocery that has veggies hidden in them. I got wheels and cheese for our very picky, on a strict diet, but refuses to eat veggies 8 yr old. He complained that the cheese tasted weird (he's used to eating the fattier Michealena brand instead) but I told him that it was just because it had REAL cheese in it and he ate it right up. lol Gotta get those veggies in any way you can. ;)

    1. I will have to look into this. The only veggies she will eat are baby food. I just shove a straw into the container and she drinks them. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I was reading an article the other day and thought of you. There was a little boy who had swallowed little balls of lead and they had somehow lodged in his appendix. But in his case the whole family had higher levels of lead due to their hunting practices and the fact that the boys in the family had played a game with swallowing the little balls. I noticed above they won't do a certain test, but maybe an X-ray? I know, we love to put our kids through even more tests!

    1. My ENT was just telling me about this boy! That is super scary to think that he was eating pellets like that. I am glad that they figured it out and were able to remove them. Xray is a good idea.

  6. Geez! How overwhelming and scary! I don't like that lady's advice about flooding her with vitamin D. Not that my opinion really matters but the risks seem far too.. Well, risky. Have you tried feeding her tempeh? I'm a vegatarian so it's my "meat" but it's high in lots of stuff and I really like it, so do my girls.. Here's a quick link that I searched on it... I don't know if its helpful of not but since Ellie's picky I thought going this route might be a helpful suggestion...I'm not trying to push vegetarianism though.. ;)

    1. I need to look into tempeh. I never heard of it but I am intrigued. It sounds like a good source of protein which would be good for Bear!

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  8. Have you guys tested the paint on your cars? I know that cars that are more than a few years old often have lead in the paint. It is more common in the red, orange, or yellow car paint, and is still used in touch up paint. Ellie wouldn't have even needed to have licked the car. If she touched the car then something else, she could have swallowed it, and the little particles that come off a car when it moves can get in the yard or house. Also, if any neighbors have particularly old cars it could have gotten on something Ellie picked up off the ground. When I was very young a neighbor's dog died of lead poisoning which was found to be from their car's paint.

    I hope you guys can find the source of the lead!

    Also, if you guys have a Trader Joe's nearby they have these fantastic soy-based "chicken" tenders that my son loves (they're called chickenless crispy tenders) he loves the texture of them (he is also very sensitive in his mouth).

  9. Sending you lots of caring thoughts! This is a lot to take in, you have been so thorough. How confusing it all is!!! Is there some national expert on lead poisoning you could speak to, and by that I mean some type of doctor who has treated children, if there is such a person. That Health Dept. woman was certainly not helpful! If you Google CDC and lead poisoning, you find a bunch of stuff. Maybe someone from there can help you have a clearer sense of what's good to give her and what's not, in conjunction with your Ped. Hugs :(

  10. Sending tons of prayers..... I truly hope you find some answers....hugs to you and bear

  11. Aww, that sounds really bad. But I think there’s nothing wrong in being suspicious about everything around you, especially when your child’s health is at stake. Being exposed to lead is not fun at all. There are lots of complications that might result from it. Anyway, have you found the culprit? I pray for Ellie’s wellness.



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