Nonsense… Michigan kids NOT ‘poisoned’ by lead in drinking water

The dose makes the poison and “any” exposure is not the same as being “poisoned.”

Here’s the headline from the Toronto Star:

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Wondering what the kids’ blood lead levels were, I found this:

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A BLL on the order of 6.5 mg/dL is not toxic. It’s not true that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. These children have not been “poisoned.” Baby boomers typiucally had much, much higher lead levels and were not “poisoned.” Kids who are actually poisoned have either made a meal out of very old leaded-paint chips or swallowed jewelry made out of lead.

For a more detailed explanation, here’s what I wrote in 2001. Nothing has changed.

Get the lead hysteria out
By Steven Milloy
March 16, 2001,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last December that levels of lead in children continue to decline. That’s a scary thought to the lead hysteria industry. This week the lead-heads launched an effort to “head off” any further good news about lead.

The Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning sponsored a press conference to spotlight the upcoming publication of a new study by activist-researcher Dr. Bruce Lanphear of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Though the study will not be published and available for review by the public for weeks, Dr. Lanphear announced he had linked learning problems in children to extremely low levels of lead exposure, on the order of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (microg/dl) and below.

Dr. Lanphear shrilled, “Lead is a major cause of many diseases of industrialization… There is no safe level of exposure to lead… Each of us has been adversely affected by lead and will be adversely affected until the day we die.” Dr. Lanphear called for a total ban on the commercial use of lead.

But Lanphear’s alarmism comes across as a lead balloon.

There is no question that “lead poisoning” can be harmful. But what is “lead poisoning”? Physicians and the lead-heads disagree.

Medical treatment for “lead poisoning” is recommended for blood lead levels above 45 microg/dl, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Environmental intervention – such as cleaning and repairing a home with deteriorating lead paint – is recommended for blood lead levels over 25 microg/dl.

But such high blood lead levels are rare and are becoming more so.

The CDC reported last December a 28 percent drop (from 10.5 percent to 7.6 percent) in the number of children with blood lead levels above 10 microg/dl. The CDC reported a 20 percent drop (from 1.5 percent to 1.2 percent) in the number of children with blood lead levels above 20 microg/dl.

Up until 10 years ago, such numbers would be cause for celebration at CDC. But in 1991, the lead-heads convinced CDC to reduce the level of concern for blood lead levels from 25 microg/dl to 10 microg/dl – that’s where the lead controversy enters the junk science world.

Lead-heads claim low-level lead exposure is associated with lower IQ scores and behavior problems among children – a claim launched by a controversial 1979 New England Journal of Medicine study by University of Pittsburgh researcher Dr. Herbert Needleman.

Not everyone was impressed with Needleman’s work, though. Critics uncovered many problems. Needleman didn’t control for the confounding factor of child’s age. Factoring in age yielded few significant results. Needleman excluded from his analysis children who were “lead poisoned” but without impaired intelligence. Needleman omitted other results that didn’t support his conclusion.

Needleman was subsequently accused of scientific misconduct. Though he was ultimately not convicted of scientific misconduct, he wasn’t vindicated either.

As was pointed out in the New England Journal of Medicine, “…the investigative bodies found Needleman’s studies scientifically flawed… involving a ‘pattern of errors, omissions, contradictions and incomplete information…’ The University of Pittsburgh… stated that had Needleman accurately described his methodology and subject selection, he ‘would have risked rejection’ of his article by the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, the [federal] Office of Research Integrity cited misplotted graph points, which were found ‘difficult to explain as honest error’…”

Subsequent studies, generally conducted by activist-researchers such as Lanphear, purport to support Needleman’s original claims. But the studies suffer from the same basic flaw: their weak statistical associations between blood lead levels and learning and behavior problems could easily be explained by socio-economic factors not adequately considered by the researchers.

After all, who’s surprised that poor, inner city kids underperform on cognitive tests?

Exposure to lead is not a problem for the vast majority of Americans and their children. More than $100 million is spent every year to monitor and reduce lead exposure among the populations most at risk for lead poisoning. The CDC data shows that progress is being made.

This progress is especially notable since commercial lead use has never been greater. Though lead is no longer used in U.S. gasoline and paints, lead has many other uses. Eighty percent of lead use is in automotive-type batteries. Leaded glass makes it possible to watch television and use computers safely.

Sadly, though, the lead-heads only see progress on lead exposure as a threat to their viability. They admitted as much during the press conference, stating that the purpose of Lanphear’s study was to prevent the CDC report from being interpreted “incorrectly.”

Ironically, the lower child blood lead levels go, the more shrill the lead-heads get. Lanphear noted that technology now enables the detection of lead in blood to the nanogram level – a billionth of a gram or one thousand times lower than the microgram level.

The lead-heads apparently plan to be around for a while.

Steven Milloy is a biostatistician, lawyer, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and publisher of

9 thoughts on “Nonsense… Michigan kids NOT ‘poisoned’ by lead in drinking water”

  1. Gotta love all the boomers going “yeah, stupid kids, LETS POISON THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


  2. Baby boomers also had silver/mercury amalgum dental work.
    Mercury has identical toxic effects to those of lead and arsenic – primarily, the ‘heavy metals’ react with proteins producing insoluble and indigestible residues. The body can gradually purge these metals if the doses aren’t too high by stashing the protein precipitates in hair and nails, which the body eventually sheds.
    I have enough mercury in my mouth yet today that a mercury vapor meter indicates my mouth is an unhealthy work environment, but I have the IQ points to support a Ph.D. education in Chemical Physics. They should look elsewhere for an excuse for their inhibited intellects.

  3. we still have a mains lead piping water supply, which was first installed in 1845. As of today no cluster of mental or otherwise impaired children has been noted. Which is the only way to objectively measure the danger of lead piping, no increase in to lead attributed impairment, no correlation and for sure no causality.

  4. A case can be made for baby-boomers suffering brain damage – evidence based on their inability to keep the country from going off the rails.
    It is probably not due to lead poisoning but to overexposure to leftist lunatic ideology promulgated by college propagandists posing as teachers leading to permanent brain malformation.
    I personally grew up during the lead paint era and as a small child would nibble on white painted woodwork [lead base with white lead pigment] because it tasted good to me.
    In spite of all the lead from that, lead doped gasoline [methyl ethyl lead as an anti-wear additive for valves] and the myriad other sources of lead in the everyday environment I turned out with a 130+ IQ and the ability to think for myself and make my own way in the world.
    BTW as a kid I built radios and other electronics [Heathkit forever] using ~lead~ solder and used lead for casting model parts. The parts needed finish work with a file and sandpaper, making lots of little lead particles that were carefully swept up and put into the melt pot, to prep them for final finishing [often with paint or butyrate dope {another product the hysterical hand-wringers go apoplectic over}containing lead/lead compounds]. Many kids today couldn’t even ~read~/understand the instruction manual for a Heathkit.

  5. Most of the stories I found on the internet, and all of the ones I saw on TV, were missing any dosage or limit values.
    The media isn’t interested in details if they might hurt the story.

  6. Lead is extremely insoluble in water……..
    However it is amphoteric so if the pH of the water deviates from 7.0 there will be Lead salts in solution………
    I, too, have been soldering for about 60 years and the only problem seems to be incurable pedantry bordering on curmudgeonry……..

  7. Like many Vietnam vets, I have lead bullet fragments embedded in my femur. To remove the lead, surgeons would have had to remove more than 6″ of bone, laying me up in the hospital for the better part of year waiting for it to grow back.

    Lead is not poisonous, lead oxide is. You can find lead tape in most hardware today. Golfers use lead tape to add weight to the handle end of their clubs.

  8. I have been in the electronics industry using lead in solder since 1958 . I also fish using lead sinkers.
    I am not aware of any damage to anyone using lead this way. There is lead in the environment naturally haven’t heard of anyone damaged by natural lead.
    Show me the victims of lead poisoning by natural sources

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