Thoughts on lead exposure

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There are instances where a partial truth can be more misleading than a vicious lie, and I believe the Josh McDonald article on lead in the June 8th edition of your paper certainly qualifies.

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I have no objection to parents taking extensive measures to protect their children from lead exposure, even if the form lead is essentially harmless. However, I also equate that effort with a parent requiring their kids to don a football pads and clothing just ride a bicycle! Is the kid safer? Probably. I’ll return to the example shortly, but first I want to return to that opening comment about partial truths.

If the statement about no safe levels of lead exposure had included the words “Refine Lead” it would have been accurate.

However, if the source of the lead exposure is dust from tailings ponds or traces of discharge lead in streams far from the smelter, it is essentially harmless!

A couple years ago or so, I was photographed in the News-Press office licking a specimen of nearly pure Galena, which was subsequently printed. Although the caption was a bit misleading, that specimen was close to 86% pure lead.

I have breathed in vast quantities of lead dust during my mining days, plus had black drill cuttings cover my arms almost daily for extended periods of time. When it came time to finally hang up those “Diggers” I had my blood tested at my own expense- with the help of the now defunct Alpha Lab in CDA. The result? My blood level was a comfortably safe 3.5!

The real danger I faced was rock dust- the same kind a person would be exposed to riding past the crushing plant on the trail of the CDA’s. Any particles in the 5 micron size range can get lodged in the lungs permanently.

So what level of lead sulphide is safe? Let me create a fictitious, but in principle would be a very real example.

Assume you found two identical 21 years old male twins to volunteer for an extensive study.

You get a ton of quartzite rock and pulverize it so all particles are 5 microns in size. You get a ton of pure Galena ore and do the same thing. The Quartzite is non-toxic, being the same chemical composition as window glass.

One volunteer sits in a room with the rock dust being circulated with a fan for one hour for one hour every day (without a dust mask).

The other volunteer makes up small pouches of lead dust from a thin handkerchief and places one on each side of his lower jaw between the cheek and gum and leaves those in for one hour each day.

Both Promise to maintain an otherwise healthy lifestyle- no tobacco, no excessive alcohol use, meals made with organic produce and drug free animal products.

The most likely results? The one breathing the rock dust will develop “silicosis.” The other volunteer will most likely live a long, healthy life and have enough get-up and go to play with his great-grandchildren! Meanwhile his twin will be “pushing up daisies”!

John Amonson,


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