Friday, August 31, 2007

What’s the Big Deal About Kids Eating Lead?

Lead, sweet lead. “Romans used lead powder to sweeten wine,” I learned in a Slate piece today. Kids today dig it in sugary paint chips. And now, with our friends in China adding lead to toys, kids can just lick those.

What’s the problem? If it tastes good, isn’t it okay in moderation? Why has everyone been losing their minds and
getting all excited about leaded toys? How come one Chinese manufacturing executive killed himself over this?

Lead is bad for kids, that’s why. Oh, you already knew that? Okay, genius, how does lead actually harm? People like to get wound up over news like this, but if you ask what the problem is, you pretty much get a blank look. And that’s where Pound360 swoops in with an answer. (Actually, all these answers come from Slate. But I’m doing the swooping.)

Basically, lead makes you stupid. It does so by tampering with the brain development. In severe cases, it can lead to seizures and comas. The worst part, well…

When it comes to toxic substances, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the government (CDC, FDA, EPA etc.) like to talk about “safe amounts.” For lead, Big Brother tells us today that blood lead levels below 10mcg/dl are cool (down from 60 mcg/dl in the Seventies). But a growing stack of evidence says that’s not cool. No lead is cool. From Slate: “recent medical evidence shows even trace amount of lead—at amounts now considered acceptable by the CDC—can damage a child's IQ… even the tiniest amount can hurt children's developing brains.”

Lead pretty much comes from two places to a kid’s blood stream. One, the environment (thank you leaded gasoline a few decades back and manufacturing emissions today). Two, paint (lead makes it bright and shiny).

Now let’s talk consequences. On the not-so-bad end, “lead-poisoned children” are more likely to quit school and have trouble reading. On the worse end, kids end up below “the general threshold for mental retardation.” Kids within the CDCs limits lose an average 7 IQ points. It may not sound like much, but that average means you have people at the high and the low end, right? At the low end, you’ll have “tens of thousands” in the official mental retardation category.

And yes, once those IQ points are lost, they’re gone forever.

So why isn’t lead more heavily restricted? Money, of course. Or, as they say, “industry resistance.” Companies like Du Pont and Ethyl like to sue the EPA when tighter emissions standards are suggested. And lead interests, whispering in the ears of the powerful, have led some modern presidents to A) suggest putting lead back into gasoline (Bush I) and B) to halt collection of national data on lead levels in kids (that was Reagan).

There’s also clever number crunching. In 2000, the EPA estimated that de-leading the country would cost about $8,000 per IQ point saved. One conservative economist, Randall Lutter of the American Enterprise Institute, “argued this was not worth the cost.” Really? An IQ point isn’t worth $8,000 in, say, earning more money through life or, perhaps inventing something brilliant? Apparently not. Lutter’s calculations show an IQ point is only worth $1,100.

How about this, Lutter and friends, what’s it worth for a parent to look their child in the eyes and say, “we, this society, has done everything possible to give you a fighting chance at being anything in life that you want to be?”

Let me guess, $7,999?

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Pound360 Archive

About Me

My photo
I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.