Lead exposure is unhealthy.
Lead can build up in the body over time, and health problems can result from small amounts. Young children are especially at risk of poisoning, and lead can “severely affect mental and physical development”. At its worst, it can even cause death. Some people may show no signs of high levels in the blood. The symptoms, in children, of poisoning include weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, vomiting, abdominal pain, constipation, and learning difficulties. Newborns may have slowed growth and learning difficulties if they were exposed prenatally. Adults may also have signs of poisoning, such as mental decline, headache, mood disorders, pain/tingling/numbness of extremities, high blood pressure, or reproductive problems. Pregnant women and parents of small children should be aware that lead can cause irreversible brain, kidney, and nervous system damage. Very high levels can be responsible for unconsciousness, seizures, or fatality.1 Lead can impact the heart, bones, intestines, and reproductive system as well.2 Even if exposure hasn’t been recent, it is possible that the elderly may develop higher levels in their blood, such as when “osteoporosis set(s) in and their bones began to break down (and) lead they were exposed to as children…(is) remobilized.”3
Precautions and Treatment
Lead can be found in contaminated dust and paint in older buildings. Water, air, and soil could also cause lead poisoning. People who work with home renovations, auto repair, and batteries are at risk. In addition, children, people living in older homes, certain hobbyists, and people living in countries that haven’t banned lead usage, are also at risk of poisoning. Historically, lead, found in the Earth’s crust, was mined and burned. It was “a key ingredient in paint and gasoline”, but it is still found in pottery, pipes, roofing materials, cosmetics, solder, and batteries. In 1978, lead-based paints were banned in the United States, but older toys, furniture, and homes may still contain lead. If children eat lead paint chips, they can become poisoned. Lead has also been banned from food cans in the U.S., but it is still used in some other countries. When it is used in pipes and solder, it contaminates tap water with its particles. It can be found in some traditional medicines in some cultures. Contaminated soil can last for years, especially around urban settings and highways. Household dust may contain lead from soil or paint. Traditional cosmetics (Kohl) contain lead, as well as some toys made in other countries. Ceramic, china, and porcelain glazes may also contain lead, and this can “leach into food”. People who feel they have been exposed can seek medical testing with a blood test. 10mcg/dL is an unsafe level. If high levels are detected it is important to “remove the source of the contamination”. Sometimes this means sealing in old paint, rather than removing it. Avoiding additional exposure “may be enough to reduce blood lead levels”. For higher levels of exposure, chelation therapy (medicine that binds to the lead for excretion) or EDTA therapy (treating the blood with ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) may be necessary. Some damage is irreverisible.4 Besides avoiding lead paint, it may be necessary to replace pipes and solder, or at least run water first to flush out pipes. Hot water contains more lead. Also, children should increase their calcium and iron intake, wash hands more, be taught not to put their hands in their mouth, and avoid certain jewelry.5 Some toys and candles may also contain lead and should be avoided as well.6
Find out more about toxins in the environment.