Science Pick: Lead Is Still the Problem

Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
Science Director

Sheila Kaplan and Corbin Hiar show that lead contamination of drinking water is a problem that has not yet been solved. Here’s what can happen when a systems problem is attacked piecemeal….. missing the danger, new tactics, and passing the buck. Ultimately, a failure to protect public health.

Millions of Americans may be drinking water that is contaminated with dangerous doses of lead. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows it; state governments know it; local utilities know it. The only people who usually don’t know it are those who are actually drinking the toxic water. Read the full article on the Investigative Reporting Workshop website.

Manganese, Like Other Heavy Metals, Robs Children of Their Potential

Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT
CHE Partner
Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders

water pump in London
John Snow removed the pump handle to stop cholera in London. Should a similar precautionary approach be taken for elevated manganese levels in drinking water?

We have heard a lot about the adverse effects of lead, even at very low levels of exposure, on the intellectual development of children, and now there is further evidence that manganese exposure from drinking water causes similar harm to children. A new study by Maryse Bouchard and co-authors1 describes the adverse effects of manganese exposure from drinking water on childhood IQ. Manganese is a very interesting metal, widely distributed and occurring naturally in food and drinking water. It is a well-established neurotoxicant. Unlike lead, which has no known biological function, manganese is an essential nutrient and in trace amounts is necessary for growth and development. In industry, manganese is used to harden steel, and manganese fumes during welding are a work place hazard.

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Get a Grip on Toxic Chemicals

Reps. Doyle and Murphy are well positioned to help protect us

Maureen Swanson
CHE Partner and Director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America

This letter was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s republished here with the author’s permission.

Imagine all the chemicals used in televisions, computers, upholstery, car seats, building materials, even children’s pajamas. Imagine that some of these chemicals migrate from products into dust and dirt, and build up in our bodies. They are found in the cord blood of newborns and in breast milk. Imagine that these chemicals are similar in structure to the notorious PCBs – carcinogens banned from use in the late 1970s.

Now wouldn’t you also imagine that these chemicals were tested and found to be safe to human health before they were allowed into our products and homes?

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Polybrominated diphyenyl ethers are flame retardant chemicals that persist in the environment and build up in the food chain and in people. Laboratory studies link exposure to PBDEs with lowered IQ and attention problems. This summer, a study of pregnant women found that those with higher levels of PBDEs had reduced levels of thyroid hormone, which is essential to a baby’s brain development.

But despite growing scientific evidence linking toxic chemical exposures to serious disease and disability, our government does not require that PBDEs – or any of the other 80,000 chemicals on the market – be tested for effects on human health.

That could be about to change, and two Pittsburgh members of Congress are in key positions to help make it happen.

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Synergistic Effects of Toxic Metals (Mercury, Lead, Aluminum) Are Extreme

Bernard Windham, MD

Mercury and lead are extremely neurotoxic and cytotoxic, but their combined synergistic effect is much worse. A dose of mercury sufficient to kill 1% of tested rats, when combined with a dose of lead sufficient to kill less than 1% of rats, resulted in killing 100% of rats tested(1). Thus with combined exposure, the safe dose is 1/100 as much as the dose individually. Studies in Australia have confirmed similar relationships hold for people. This means most people in the US are getting dangerous levels of these metals, enough to cause some neurologic effects.

Similar is true for synergistic effect with other toxic metals like arsenic, and with other toxic chemicals like PCBs(2). The level of mercury thimerosal in vaccines has been shown to be highly neurotoxic, but the effect was found to be much larger due to the synergistic effect with aluminum, which is also in most vaccines(3). Studies using US CDC data have found thimerosal from vaccines to be major factors in autism and ADHD(4), along with prenatal rhogam shots which contain high levels of mercury thimerosal and are given to some RH negative women during pregnancy.

Autism has increased in the US more than 10-fold in the last decade. According to the Florida Department of Education, the numbers increased from approximately 300 to over 4000 during this time period. There have likewise been large increases in the number of children with ADHD and other developmental conditions, according to the National Academy of Sciences and other sources. A major factor in this appears to be the large increase in vaccinations given to infants. (more documentation is available at the childrens neurological page,

There was an increase of over 45% in learning disabilities in Pennsylvania between 1990 and 2000(5). But the study showed that the county highest on the Chemical Pollution Scorecard, Montgomery, had an increase more than double that of the rest of the state. Montgomery County had an increase in ADHD of 32.7% and an increase in autism of 310%.

ps. note that a high percentage of Gulf state residents have been documented to have high levels of mercury exposure (Mobile Register study,

1. Schubert J, Riley EJ, Tyler SA. Combined effects in toxicology. A rapid systematic testing procedure: cadmium, mercury, and lead. Toxicol Environ Health 1978;4(5/6):763-776.

2. Philippe Grandjean P, White RF et al. Neurobehavioral deficits associated with PCB in 7-year-old children prenatally exposed to seafood neurotoxicants. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 2001;223(4):305-317.

3. Haley, BE, Pendergrass JC, Lovell, M, Univ. of Kentucky Chemistry Dept., paper presented to the Institute of Medicine Immunization Safety Review Committee, Spring 2001, and on medical lab website,

4. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, 2003, Study of learning disability incidence in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 1990 and 2000; & ” Polluting Our Future: Chemical Emissions in the U.S. that Affect Child Development and Learning,” by Physicians For Social Responsibility, at (202) 898-0150,

5. Geier M.R., Geier DA; Thimerosal in Childhood Vaccines, Neurodevelopmental Disorders, and Heart Disease in the U.S. ; J of Amer Physicians and Surgeons, Vol 8(1), Spring 2003; & Bradstreet J, Geier DA, et al, A case control study of mercury burden in children with Autisitic Spectrum Disorders, J of Amer Physicians and Surgeons, Vol 8(3), Summer 2003.