Chronic lead poisoning from urban soils

August 19, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS -- Chronic lead poisoning, caused in part by the ingestion of contaminated dirt, affects hundreds of thousands more children in the United States than the acute lead poisoning associated with imported toys or jewelry. Could treating contaminated soil with water prevent this public health scourge?

In a study appearing in the August issue of the journal Applied Geochemistry, Gabriel M. Filippelli, Ph.D., professor of earth sciences and department chair at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, conducted a literature review of studies of urban soils as a persistent source of lead poisoning and also investigated the lead burden in the soils from a number of cities, including Indianapolis. His findings reveal that older cities like Indianapolis have a very high lead burden resulting in a lead poisoning epidemic among their youngest citizens.

Filippelli suggests two possible remedies, one of which he believes to be feasible from both the practical and monetary perspectives and doable almost immediately.

According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data, there are approximately 20 million children below the age of five in the United States, the age range of greatest susceptibility to the harmful affects of lead poisoning. Filippelli notes that about 2 percent of these children (approximately 400,000) have lead poisoning, many in epidemic proportions.

While acute lead poisoning from toys and direct ingestion of interior paint has received more publicity, these cases account for only a portion of children with lead poisoning. Many health officials are increasingly concerned with chronic lead poisoning, which occurs at lower levels of lead in the blood and are harder to diagnose. Babies and young children may develop chronic lead poisoning when playing in dirt yards or playgrounds or in areas with blowing dry soil tainted with the lead, which is ubiquitous in older urban areas.

"These national numbers for chronic lead poisoning are staggering but the percentage of affected children in older urban areas is much much higher than in rural areas or newer cities. The blowing soil and dust young children ingest contains large amount of lead from lead paint and leaded gasoline deposited decades ago, and from industrial contamination. In Indianapolis, we found high levels of soil contamination. Many older urban centers, have lead poisoning rates that are 5 to10 times the national average." said Filippelli, who is a biogeochemist studying environmental contamination of heavy metals and its effects on children's health.

Going into neighborhoods where yards are dirt rather than grass-covered and spraying clean water with high power shower systems when tests show that soil moisture is low (usually mid-July to mid-September in Indianapolis, for example), would significantly decrease the chronic lead poisoning in children, according to Filippelli. Since contaminated dirt blows from one property to another, this cannot be done on a house by house basis but must be carried out on a regional basis.

A better but less feasible remedy would be to put a layer of clean soil on top of the contaminated soil and to hydroseed the fresh dirt with grass. While preferable it is less practical as the grass has to be maintained, more costly and probably unrealistic to expect money-strapped municipalities to attempt. The high end remedy, removal of all contaminated dirt, perhaps two feet deep, is unattainable, except in small areas around industrial sites such as lead smelters.

Lead levels in the dirt in which children play are a public health hazard. "Our review plus the new directions we suggest for remoisturizing soil to prevent blowing of contaminants, confirm that our approach to estimating lead burden and its remediation can be done anywhere in the U.S. where there is a lead concern. The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban have focused their attention on indoor contamination as the direct source of lead to children. It is now time to open the door and solve the contaminated soil problem. We hope our study will raise awareness, and ultimately funding, to stop the poisoning of America's children, especially those living in older urban areas," said Filippelli, who is associate director of the Indiana University Center for Environmental Health.

Young children, especially those who crawl, put objects in their mouth, eat dirt, or are exposed to blowing dirt, and can consume a significant amount of lead. Children's developing digestive systems are very susceptible to lead poisoning. To a child's body, lead looks like calcium because they both have same ionic charge and size. As their neurons develop, the nervous system tries to use lead in place of calcium and the child's neural systems fail to form correctly. This impairs neural function leading to irreversibly decreased IQ and increased attention deficient issues.

Chelation, which purges lead from the body, is used to treat acute lead poisoning but is much less effective in chronic lead poisoning.
-end-
Dr. Filippelli is a leader in the emerging field of medical geology. He is the first elected chair of the Geological Society of America's Geology and Health Division and is currently immediate past chair. This study was funded by the IUPUI School of Science.

Indiana University

Related Health Articles from Brightsurf:

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs
Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in health care spending in the US in 2016, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.

New measure of social determinants of health may improve cardiovascular health assessment
The authors of this study developed a single risk score derived from multiple social determinants of health that predicts county-level cardiovascular disease mortality.

BU study: High deductible health plans are widening racial health gaps
The growing Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to the myriad structures that reinforce racial inequities, in everything from policing to hiring to maternal mortality.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-health resource improves men's health behaviours with or without fitness facilities
Men who regularly used a free web resource made significantly more health changes than men who did not, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.

Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.

Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.

Read More: Health News and Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.