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Special Report by Dr Stewart
2019 - Lead in Ireland

This article was also used as the source for publication in the Irish Medical Times.

see a copy of the IMT article here > The Burden of Lead Exposure

In mid April of this year - 2019, the Irish Times newspaper and several others online, published articles, allegedly sourced by using the Freedom of Information Act, reporting on the exceptionally high levels of Lead in some areas in Ireland’s drinking water where it was stated that in some parts of the country, the levels were 15 times the legal limit !


It is extremely important to also acknowledge that there are significant and major health implications regarding this situation.

In 2018, a report on the WHO (World Health Organization) website announced categorically that there is NO safe level for lead in the human body.


So while Ireland may have set a ‘legal’ limit, there is in fact NO safe limit.


The WHO also states that young children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because they absorb 4–5 times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source.


Once lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. The body stores lead in the teeth and bones where it accumulates over time.


For childbearing adults, Lead stored in bone may be remobilized into the blood during pregnancy, thus exposing the fetus.


Lead exposure has very serious consequences for our health.

These chronic everyday low dose exposures at lower levels that cause no obvious symptoms, and that previously were considered safe, lead is now known to produce a spectrum of injury across multiple body systems.


In particular lead can affect children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioural changes such as reduced attention span and increased antisocial behaviour, and reduced educational attainment.


This is quite unsettling because in recent years, our primary schools have seen their needs rise significantly for additional classroom SNA’s - Special Needs Assistants, to help teachers with children who have neurological and behavioural issues.

Lead exposure also causes anaemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioural effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.


There is no known safe blood lead concentration.

Even blood lead concentrations as low as 5 µg/dL, once thought to be a “safe level”, may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties, and learning problems.

Setting a legal limit is only a policy tool. There are no safe limits.


There are also recent studies showing links between early Lead exposure and the later life development of Alzheimer’s disease.


Encouragingly, the successful phasing out of leaded fuel in most countries, together with other lead control measures, has resulted in a significant decline in population-level blood lead concentrations.


However there is still a burden of disease from our lead exposure here in Ireland.


In the US, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated that in 2016 lead exposure accounted for 540 000 deaths and 13.9 million years of healthy life lost (disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)) worldwide due to long-term effects on health.


The highest burden was in low- and middle-income countries. IHME also estimated that in 2016, lead exposure accounted for 63.8% of the global burden of idiopathic developmental intellectual disability, 3% of the global burden of ischaemic heart disease and 3.1% of the global burden of stroke.


The Lead connection to adult cardiovascular diseases.

(Lancet 2018)


Also in 2018, The Lancet, published two studies in relation to lead exposure and its direct correlation with greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


Lead is a cumulative toxin, so even with tiny trace amounts, it will be absorbed and build up over time in the human body, and can lead to a wide range of serious and negative health conditions.


The Lancet studies highlighted..


Notes that a previous study estimated that the fraction of all-cause mortality in the USA alone attributable to lead is 18%, accounting for 412,000 deaths per year.


A key conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that lead has a much greater effect on cardiovascular mortality than previously recognized."


"Lead exposure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease mortality."

"​Chronic exposure to lead caused hypertension and enhanced the development of atherosclerosis."

"The time has come to end inattention to the contribution of pollution to mortality from non-communicable diseases and to thoroughly re-examine lead's role in changing global patterns of cardiovascular disease. "

The Lancet also states that reducing the amount of lead in blood might cut a patient's risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.


The only known effective way to do this is with Chelation Therapy and indeed the Lancet paper acknowledges this, and refers to the TACT trial (The Trial to assess Chelation Therapy) which had been long called for by those using Chelation in private practice for many years.


The results of which were extremely positive, although unusually it was not widely reported back then and even criticized in a few online editorials.


In that trial,18% of participants overall had positive outcomes and particularly for the patients with diabetes, who made up approximately one-third of the 1,708 TACT participants, had a 41 percent overall reduction in the risk of any cardiovascular event; a 40 percent reduction in the risk of death from heart disease, nonfatal stroke, or nonfatal heart attack; a 52 percent reduction in recurrent heart attacks; and a 43 percent reduction in death from any cause.  


The TACT study team also looked at the impact of taking high-dose vitamins and minerals in addition to chelation therapy. They found that chelation plus high-dose vitamins and minerals produced the greatest reduction in risk of cardiovascular events versus placebo.


However for some, these outstanding results do not warrant making Chelation Therapy a part of standard mainstream care at present, so now yet another trial is presently underway at NIH - TACT 2.


It’s easily anticipated positive results again, are expected by many to be the final nail in the coffin of the deniers of the hard facts so far.


The simple facts..


  • Lead is a known cause of cardiovascular disease.

  • We have all been exposed to lead toxicity at varying levels.

  • Chelation is still the gold standard worldwide for removing Lead from the body.

  • By removing the Lead and other toxic metals we reduce the risk of their impact on our bodies health.


However, at present here in Ireland our main systems of medical care does not even consider Lead exposure or toxicity when dealing with patients presenting with a wide range of, now known to be related health conditions, except perhaps in extremely rare cases presenting with acute lead poisoning symptoms or known exposures.


Lead is also classified as a probable carcinogen, a cancer causing element.


And again in 2018 another significant study was published, available on PubMed, that showed that urinary lead levels were an independent predictor of cancer mortality observed in the U.S. general population.


Given that Ireland is now ranked with the third highest cancer rates in the world, isn’t it time to also consider our excessive exposure to lead as perhaps one of the factors that may be contributing to this?


The legal limit of lead in drinking water in Europe has been gradually reduced, from 50µg per litre in 1988 to 10µg per litre in December 2013. (source HSE)


People born before 1988 will have had a greater exposure to Lead, from most likely at that time, unmonitored drinking water, the widespread use of lead based petrol, lead based paints and other environmental factors as well as in many occupational situations.


In relation to exposures from our drinking water, much of the blame has been attributed to older houses with Lead piping, which was widely used up to the mid 70’s.


However it’s not just the old Lead pipes when it comes to our water being polluted.

Studies have now shown that even some PVC pipes, which actually use Lead as a binding agent, can also leach lead into the water and it can also come from popular tap fittings.


While the HSE and also Irish Water online advisory is to flush the taps a little before drinking or using for food preparation and cooking, to hopefully reduce the levels of lead, the same reports also warn that boiling the water can increase the lead levels in the water.


So this could mean that all hot drinks and foods cooked in our tap water will more than likely have elevated levels of lead.


Dealing with the Lead in water within Irish homes is not within the remit of Irish Water, as they are just responsible for bringing the supply safely to the property boundary.


However, there is a lack of public awareness to the risks for those living in older properties with lead pipes.


Perhaps it is time to make this another factor (like the BER energy Rating) for reporting during the sale of a property.


Ireland could also learn from the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan USA, where the city population were exposed to greatly increased levels of Lead by changes in their drinking waters main supply in 2013 and it caused a major health problem.  


In this situation, even the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in the US are recommending chelation therapy for children with blood levels above a certain amount, but thankfully it appears so far that no children have reached that level.


However the situation there is still evolving and in just the last month, Federal Judges have now ruled that the many thousands of people affected by the water crisis and who are suffering related health problems, can now sue the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)


In Europe, there are now several agencies, NGO’s and other groups addressing heavy metals and their effects on human and environmental health and a major conference took place in Berlin.

The International Conference on Metal Detoxification - Berlin 2019, took place on June 10th - 13th.


The conference brought together researchers from the fields of metal biology and medical geology to showcase the latest developments and address global challenges.


The goals are to launch successful collaborative projects and bring science closer to clinical practice and to inform the public about the exposure of heavy metals from food, soil, water and air from natural sources or pollution.


The conference is not only the beginning of an international, scientific collaboration, but also offers both doctors and non-medical practitioners access to the latest findings, as well as a platform to exchange experiences.


One of the sponsors of this conference is the European Center for Environmental Medicine which is a nonprofit project engaged in establishing Clinical Environmental Medicine in Europe.


They are committed to promote the availability of examinations of toxic burdens for all patients whenever a correlation between chronic diseases is suspected.


Accompanied by public awareness this should lead to a recognition of a medical specialisation in environmental medicine and therapies based on the detoxification.


Although the conference was attended by doctors, scientists and researchers from all over Europe, and indeed the world, I was the only representative from Ireland, and I look forward to publishing its findings in the coming weeks.

Dr T.E. Gabriel Stewart


Irish Times - April 15th 2019

Sources for this Report

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This report was compiled using publicly available online resources and references peer reviewed studies throughout.