Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Is There Lead In Your Tub?
I vetted my rubber ducky’s lifeguard certification before I put him in the tub with my kiddos. Okay, not really, but as a mama I have tried to make bathtime safe. Skid-proof tub? Check! Filter to remove nasties like chlorine and heavy metals? Check! Homemade non-toxic shampoo and soap? Yep, that too.
But could my tub have a dirty little secret that pretty much knocks all that stuff out of the water? According to, Laura Rudeseal, the answer is YES.
Over the weekend a Dallas Morning News article popped up on my Facebook feed about Laura’s family. I immediately recognized her as one of the amazing mama’s I’ve gotten to know through this blog and contacted her to clarify some things that weren’t covered in the DMN article. She graciously made time to share some incredibly important info with us – thank you Laura! Here’s her story:
Earlier this year, blood tests revealed that Laura’s two small children – two-year old Trevor and six-year old Kassidy – had elevated levels of lead in their system. She searched for the source with no luck, so she hired an expert to come do a little detective work. After eliminating the usual suspects – door frames, windowsills, walls, etc. – he headed straight for the . . . bathroom?
Yep. Though few parents know about it, experts estimate that 62 percent of the porcelain tubs in American households have lead leaching into the bath water, placing millions of children at risk. (source)
Okay, that can’t be good, but how serious is it really?
Lead Poisoning Leads To Lowered IQ, Learning Disabilities, & Impaired Growth
According to the National Safety Council, “All it takes is the lead dust equivalent of a single grain of salt for a child to register an elevated blood lead level.” Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure because their brains and central nervous systems are still developing.
“Tests in August showed Trevor and Kassidy had lead levels of 4.4 and 4.5,” wrote the Dallas Morning News, adding that “A blood lead level of less than 5 in children can cause decreased academic achievement and a lowered IQ as well as problem behaviors and attention deficit disorders. Blood lead levels less than 10 in children have been linked to delayed puberty, decreased IQ and decreased hearing.” (emphasis mine)
Here’s another article that goes into more depth on the ADD connection:
“There is also plenty of evidence that lead may have some causal effect in relation to ADHD. One author of a previous study states:
Similar to the effects observed in children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), experimental animals exposed to lead (Pb) exhibit behaviors attributed to “impulsivity” and ‘inability to inhibit inappropriate responding.'” (Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1998 Jun;60(2):545-52)
Another study examined the lead concentrations in children’s hair samples and compared them to attention-deficit behaviors. The authors state:
The striking dose-response relationship between levels of lead and negative teacher ratings remained significant… An even stronger relationship existed between physician-diagnosed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and hair lead… There was no apparent ‘safe’ threshold for lead. Scalp hair should be considered a useful clinical and epidemiologic approach for the measurement of chronic low-level lead exposure in children. (Arch Environ Health 1996 May-Jun;51(3):214-20).
Making the possibility of lead poisoning even worse are the studies showing that fluoridated water supplies can increase children’s absorption of lead, and, when lead is introduced into your body in sufficient quantities, it displaces zinc, which disrupts brain cell growth.” (source)
I have to say, I am so amazed that Laura followed her instincts and had her kids tested. Who knows what kind of potential problems she prevented by acting as soon as she had suspicions!
Is Laura’s experience an isolated one?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Last year it was discovered that a Richmond, VA toddler was being slowly poisoned by his bathtub, and in 2010 Good Morning America reported on a family that spent $15K removing lead-based paint from their home only to find that their children’s blood still measured dangerous levels. The problem turned out to be the tub. (source 1, source 2)
How many more cases are out there? Experts say that there are often no obvious symptoms of lead poisoning and the effects can take years to show up. The only reliable way to determine exposure levels is through a blood test.
So, Where Is The Lead Coming From?
Believe it or not, it is actually ADDED to some porcelain enamel glazes as a bonding or pigmenting agent. When the glaze cracks/chips or begins to wear thin due to use the lead leaches into bath water. Children are likely to drink bath water, which increases their exposure, but it can also be somewhat absorbed through the skin. (source)
Many U.S. companies have stopped using them voluntarily, but there are no regulations in place that restrict the use of lead. In other words, the brand new tubs at your local hardware store may be laced with lead. (source 1, source 2, source 3)
How To Check Your Bathtub For Lead
Ironically, as I type this a brand new tub is being installed in my bathroom. Though I’ve done what I can to ensure that it is unlikely to contain lead (it is made by a U.S. company and has a base of steel rather than cast iron), after it turns three years old I will be checking it every six months just to make sure.
These test kits from Lead Check are considered very reliable. They are orange if no lead is present, and pink or red if it is. Here is a photo of Laura Rudeseal’s tub after the test. Note: This test may stain the tub!
Other Potential Sources Of Lead Exposure
If you decide to pick up a lead testing kit you might as well check the other common sources of lead exposure in homes, right? Here are some places you might want to start:
- Dishes – Many dishes (especially imported ones) contain lead and cadmium in the glaze. I recently switched all my dinnerware to this brand because it is lead and cadmium-free.
- Paint – According to a healthy home expert whose lecture I attended this year, old paint is not always an issue. If it peeling or exposed it definitely is. However, if it is painted over and you don’t sand or otherwise remove the paint it is often best left there. (Please note that I am not an expert . . . just passing along the opinion of one!)
- Plastic – ” The use of lead in plastics has not been banned. It softens the plastic and makes it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape. It may also be used in plastic toys to stabilize molecules from heat. When the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms a dust.” (source)
For more info check out this resource from the EPA: Lead In Your Home: A Parent’s Reference Guide
What To Do If You Find Lead
I am not an expert on lead in the home, but I did find several suggestions for dealing with it’s presence in researching this post that I wanted to pass along.
- Consider switching to showers – It’s a simple solution for those who do not have it in their budget to take other steps and/or are renting.
- Encapsulate your bathtub – This involves hiring an expert to paint a protective coat on top of the ceramic coating to prevent it from leaching. It is a far less expensive option than replacing the tub!
- Replace your tub – If you want porcelain instead of plastic, your best bet is to find a U.S. manufacturer that makes steel tubs coated in porcelain. You might also want to check with them and see if they will confirm whether or not they use lead in their glaze.
- Consider a detox protocol – I haven’t researched this extensively, but I did read that a “chelating process called DMSA can help extract not only lead, but also mercury, cadmium, arsenic, antimony, and may other heavy metalsfrom your body. Heavy metals suppress the effect of a number of enzymes, some of which can be easily tested to see if you may be suffering from an excess of these heavy metals.” (source)