by Rachelle Tannenbaum
Many of us have heard in the news recently about toys from China being recalled due to dangerous lead paint. But what many of us don’t know is that lead paint isn’t just on imported toys—it can also be in our homes and in household objects. This is no small matter, as almost one million US children are suffering the negative effects of lead poisoning, which can include learning difficulties, behavioral problems, physical impairments, and even coma or death. This issue of the ezine includes information about the effects of lead and ways to get rid of it—information that may save the life of you or your child.
A special thanks is due to Patti Peters of the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, who provided much of the information that appears in this article.
by Rachelle Tannenbaum
What is lead?
Lead is a metal with many uses, including some that go back for thousands of years. The toxic effects of lead have been known for almost as long. Lead was used in this country in some paints until 1978, and in gasoline until 1996. Lead paint, as it gets old, often creates dangerous dust and chips that pose a health risk. Lead is still found in many places, including some ceramic glazes, home remedies, water pipes, and toys and food cans made in other countries.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs when a person has too much lead in his body, usually from eating something with lead in it or breathing lead dust or fumes. Children with low levels of lead poisoning may not show any outward signs, but can have long-term problems with learning and behavior. Lead harms many different parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys and the blood. Severe lead poisoning can cause seizures, coma or death. Lead can remain stored in the bones of people who are poisoned as children and cause problems later.
Young children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead's harmful health effects, because their brains and central nervous system are still being formed. For them, even very low levels of exposure can result in reduced IQ, nervous system damage, poor muscle coordination, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, impaired hearing, and stunted growth. At high levels of exposure, a child may become mentally retarded, fall into a coma, and even die from lead poisoning. Lead poisoning has also been associated with juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior. Small children often put their fingers and other things in their mouths, and so they are more likely to eat paint chips or dust with lead in it. Almost one million children in this country between the ages of 1 and 5 have elevated blood lead levels.
When a pregnant woman has an elevated blood lead level, that lead can easily be transferred to the fetus, as lead crosses the placenta. In fact, pregnancy itself can cause lead to be released from the bone, where lead is stored—often for decades—after it first enters the blood stream. Once the lead is released from the mother's bones, it re-enters the blood stream and can end up in the fetus. In such cases, the baby is born with an elevated blood lead level.
Signs and symptoms in children
The signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children are nonspecific and may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Unusual paleness (pallor) from anemia
- Learning difficulties
How can you tell if someone has lead poisoning?
The best way to find out if someone has lead poisoning is to have a blood test. A blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or higher is considered to be elevated. A blood lead level of 70 micrograms per deciliter or higher is considered a medical emergency.
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