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Keeping Watch

By Steve Wilson | Jan 29, 2012

Iowa Legislature Looks at Lead Shot — The effects of lead poisoning are highly variable based on the dose. High enough and it is toxic to man and beast but even low levels can shave IQ points off developing children.

When I worked as Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator at Motorola (a local industry that used lead in various forms in production processes) we monitored our employees to keep their blood lead level below 5 micrograms per deciliter of whole blood. This was a proactive measure to assure that all employees were below the threshold of 10 that was established at the time as the safe level for pregnant women.  

We were proud of our program as over the years only a very few temporarily crossed our threshold of 5 (never a pregnant woman) and those topped out at 7.  Anytime a person got over 5 we implemented corrective measures until the level was reduced.  Based on environmental and health concerns we also worked to implement the use of lead free solders to further limit exposure.

Why all the fuss at such low levels? Because it was established at the time that elevated blood lead levels above 10 in pregnant women could shave off IQ points in the developing baby.  We wanted the next generation of Motorolans  to be even smarter and thus we considered it a smart move.  As it turned out Motorola left, but at least it left behind a bunch of smart kids.

Now new studies indicate that a significant portion of the damage to the IQ occurs at levels below 10. The researchers noted "We were surprised to find that in our study the IQ scores of children who had blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter were about 7 points lower than for children with levels of 1 microgram per deciliter," Canfield said.  Ten is no longer safe. But is 5? How about 3? Somewhere between 1 and 10 appears to be a critical level but just where remains an open question.

Two years later

“Half of the decline in children’s adjusted intelligence scores occurred within the first few micrograms of the mothers’ exposure, with most of the decline observed by the current safety standard of 10 µg/dL.”

Two years later:

For now no safe level of blood lead has be established for developing children from conception to 6 years of age.  Yes 1 is better than 10 but even less than one may be better than 1.

While Motorola put the emphasis on the unborn and avoiding the ingestion of lead by workers  we also encouraged workers to take care to not take lead home with them on their hands or clothing. Current research indicates moderately elevated blood lead levels in children at 6 years of age may be more serious than for two year olds. Lacking better information we have no well-defined critical time or dose.

Then a new study finds elevated blood lead levels in those who eat critters killed with lead.

 “The study was conducted by the Centers of Disease Control and the North Dakota Department of Health and tested the blood of 738 North Dakotans who identified themselves as consumers of wild game meat.”

“The study was launched after investigations last year found lead bullet fragments in a significant percentage of butchered venison. Authors of the blood study aimed to find out if hunters' families that ate wild venison were more likely to have higher levels of lead in their bloodstreams than the general public.

And the result is that there is a mildly elevated level of lead in the blood of the sampled population. Lead levels ranged from no detectable levels to 9.82 micrograms per deciliter (CDC guidelines say that lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood can cause physical and cognitive problems). The North Dakota health department issued this dire warning based on the study:

*Pregnant women and children younger than 6 should not eat any venison harvested with lead bullets.”

I do not know who cares, but I do know that when I worked for Motorola we did and I also know that the NRA apparently does not. And why would that be? Might the value of the IQ of the unborn be more important to Motorola than to the NRA ?  If so, why?  Why does the NRA want to protect my family from intruders but not from lead poisoning?

Comments (2)
Posted by: Steve Wilson | Jan 29, 2012 11:42

Lead blood level classes


Blood lead level

Possible effects in children


1–9 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL)

or less than 0.48 micromoles per liter (mcmol/L)

Learning problems


10–14 mcg/dL or 0.48–0.68 mcmol/L

Hearing problems, slowed growth, learning problems


15–19 mcg/dL or 0.70–0.96 mcmol/L


20–44 mcg/dL or 0.97–2.1 mcmol/L

Headache, weight loss, nervous system problems


45–69 mcg/dL or 2.17–3.33 mcmol/L

Severe stomach cramps, poor production of red blood cells (anemia), seizures


More than 69 mcg/dL or more than 3.33 mcmol/L

Severe brain damage leading to death

Note there is no safe dose greater than 1

Posted by: Steve Wilson | Feb 09, 2012 12:05

I sent Dave Heaton, our State Representative for the 91st District the above information. Dave chose to vote to repeal the ban on lead shot. 

One way or the other let Dave know how You feel about his vote.The NRA has encouraged all of its members to thank Dave for his support of the ongoing utilization of lead shot. They are fully aware and still refusing to care about the consequenses to human health and the environment.

Steve Wilson

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