Cancer least of lead woes

Apparently you were not told of the true problem with lead in the soil [February 10: "Orchard fall-out: Fears of arsenic and old lead surface"]. Although there is a remote chance of getting cancer from lead poisoning, there are more immediate consequences far worse than cancer.

First, you have to understand that lead is absorbed by the body and only slowly excreted. Thus even small amounts of lead absorbed each day can build up to toxic levels over time.

Second, lead poisoning has been documented to lower intelligence by five to fifteen I.Q. points in children, with most of the damage done at low-level exposures below what is considered toxic under federal law. Lead poisoning has also been linked through experiments with rats and monkeys to learning disabilities and impulsivity that results in misbehavior and violence.

Lead poisoning interferes with the absorption of iron and therefore is associated with anemia. Lead poisoning results from the body mistaking lead ions for calcium ions, and in the brain calcium is used by neurons to transfer impulses. Some of the brain chemistry affected by lead poisoning is similar to that involved in schizophrenia, and research has associated lead poisoning with that mental illness.

Lead poisoning has also been linked to ADHD and to subsequent criminal activity. I have an extensive article on the effects of lead poisoning on children and schools at

The key point is that cancer is an often treatable disease, but brain damage from lead poisoning is irreversible.

High levels of lead in the blood can be immediately fatal, and the federal guidelines serve primarily to reflect the physiological toxicity of lead. However, one nationally recognized expert noted that low-level lead poisoning doesn't kill children, it just kills their brain. Indeed, there is evidence of continuing mental deterioration long after exposure.

Michael T. Martin, Research Analyst
Arizona School Boards Association
Phoenix, AZ #