01 October 2005

Leaded Candy?

I'll start with basics; allow me introduce you to the wonders of LEAD.

Did you realize that LEAD contains four (count 'em!) isotopes? Three of them occur as a result of decay in two of the radioactive (ut oh) elements, thorium and uranium. Wait, there's more; scientists have identified 25 known radioactive isotopes that occur in lead.

There is no safe level of lead in your blood stream. Zero. Zip. Nada.

ALL LEAD compounds are poisonous. Lead will tweak your DNA and the DNA of your unborn children. Lead will cause cancer. It accumulates in your body, particularly in your bone marrow. It does not appear to be affected by normal flushing mechanisms. It can remain hidden until some event (like a huge weight loss or chemotherapy) triggers its release.

Emerging science tells us that lead is now being considered a causal factor in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as Attention Deficit(ADD) and Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD), Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis(ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease), Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and dementias (affectionately known around here as the DUHs) like Alzheimer’s.

It is considered to be a precursor to criminal behaviors.

Lead poisoning has been implicated in damage to the brain, particularly the frontal lobes; lead causes loss of IQ. Your brain's frontal lobes, among other things, control aggressive and impulsive behaviors. Your emotions. Your temper.

Some veterans develop PTSD while others do not; it has been a matter of research for many years. To quote one scientist (to whom I will give credit as soon as I find the reference): ‘After neurological and psychological testing,it appeared that neurodevelopmental problems…correlated with neurological soft signs are suggestive of lead poisoning. The results remained true after accounting for alcoholism or head injury.’ In other words, the damage caused by lead poisoning was consistent and separate from the influences and damage caused by alcoholism or a good conk on the head.

Neurotoxicity and behavioral effects occur at much lower levels than previously thought. A tiny particle of lead, the size of a grain of sand, will be measurable in your bloodstream. Worse yet, scientists are discovering previously-unknown factors in the environment and synergistic effects of other chemicals which add to the destructive effects of lead.

It is a primary ingredient in solder, yes, but its danger goes far beyond the workplace.

Lead paint was outlawed years ago, for residential housing; but, if your house was built before the 1980, or if you do any remodeling, you could be at risk. Researchers are beginning to link the troubling upswing in criminal behaviors, lower IQ's, stunted growth and deformities in at-risk populations to, you guessed it, deteriorating lead-painted surfaces of sub-standard housing.

Lots of wood in your home? Stains and varnishes contain lead.

Copper pipes? Lead in the solder used to braze joints will leach into your water supply. Ditto brass faucets. Oh, you might want to see if any old plumbing systems around your home or workplace still have lead pipes in place.

Lunchboxes for your kids? Double-check the manufacturer to see if the paint contains lead.

Crafts? Lead was outlawed in childrens crafts but NOT for adults.

Ceramics? nooo, please do not eat from those lovely, brightly-colored ceramic plates! Whatever you do, don't use anything but microwave-safe dishes in your microwave. If the dish gets very hot, chances are it isn't microwave-safe; that means toxins will leach from the paints into your food.

Fishing weights and lures, bullets, some jewelry, ethnic and cultural medicines and even candy can contain enough lead to ruin your day.

Calcium supplements, hair dye and old playground equipment are potential threats.

Did you know that the average computer monitor contains about 2.5 pounds of lead? The old CRT's carry about 8 pounds. Consider how fast our technology changes, how quickly our computers become outdated and how many of them get tossed into the garbage with last night's pizza boxes. Got that visual? Color it with the fact that lead accumulates. It will leach into the soil, into the water tables and right back to your home and you in your drinking water.

Women and children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning. Given equal exposure, children will absorb 50% to adults 10%. Children are at higher risk, and not just because they're built closer to the ground. Their systems run so much faster than ours that toxins are quickly carried throughout their bodies. Women tend to be at higher risk because of the toxic interaction with hormones.

I urge you to BE AWARE of your surroundings.

I wish I had been. The contaminated dusts that I tracked home from work poisoned my children, too.

Lament of the Sentinel

One year of research culminates in a single, disturbing realization: I was poisoned.

On the bright side, at least I have an explanation for odd medical anomalies!

Alright, I confess. I have a warped sense of humor. Last year's chemo, for example, presented a juicy conundrum: how could I lose all the hair on my head yet still have to shave my legs? Before I could put pen to paper and solve the problem, I was drop-kicked into another mystery: chemo fog.

Rather like a chemically-induced Alzheimer's Disorder, chemo fog redefines 'short-term' memory; long-term memories remain intact. That's how dementias work: the earliest memories are the last to go. I could not tell you what I did yesterday, but my earliest memories are of a Merchant Marine uncle and his rare, extraordinary visits with tales of faraway lands. I knew that would be my life, someday. It took a long, long time, because my high school offered females two career options: homemaking and secretary. (It's true!)

From those two choices came two lessons: one, the kitchen was not my friend; two, shorthand and typing bored me, despite being clocked at 180 wpm and 100 wpm, respectively. On the other hand, Snap On tools and Mopar transmissions intrigued me, thanks to mentors at my Dad's shop. I was a tomboy, through and through.

At the ripe old age of 29, I enlisted in the Navy. For some unfathomable reason, my Navy did not have Snap On or Mopar ratings so I chose a work-intensive avionics rating that involved electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic and troubleshooting skills...and carried a lot of sea duty!

Classes and the mandatory note-taking would have been a breeze, had I not suffered from severe pushup-related muscle cramps. My sense of humor suffered greatly under the company commander's watchful eye; not so my physique. Despite the challenges, I was living my childhood dream throughout boot camp and the subsequent year-long training course.

Ah, about that whole living-a-dream thing? Guess I forgot to tell CINCPAC. Their response? Sorry. Female. You can learn it; you can teach it; you can even use it, just not aboard ship. Women serving in combat intensive ratings do not go to sea!

Oh pshaw. Now what?

Well, I was introduced to the joys of micro-miniature repair, otherwise known as soldering to NASA specifications, often with a stereo microscope. It is not a job for the faint of heart. One miniscule solder joint could be tested for 40 different defects. Forty! It wasn't long before I was teaching the course.

It would be 20 years before I learned lead exposure is considered a precursor to criminal behavior. Implicated in PTSD. Lowered IQ. Attention Deficit Disorder. Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gherig's Disease). Multiple Sclerosis. Dementias. Alzheimer's. Psychological upheavals. Lead is a neurotoxin and carcinogenic. It can affect you by exposure to vapors as well as ingestion or respiration of microscopic particulates.

It is a primary ingredient in solder.

That is where my story begins.