We are all exposed to lead through food, water, and environment regardless of our lifestyles. Lead is a naturally occurring metal, but the fact that its natural doesn’t make it healthy. In fact, lead is extremely toxic to humans and affects the kidneys, liver, reproductive system, and nervous system. Exposure to lead can happen quietly and can cause permanent problems, especially to your brain.
Lead and toxic metal poisoning is a problem in many countries in the world which include India, Iran, China and the United States. Sources of lead exposure vary due in part to lead being included in many products and chemicals that are used world-wide. Occupational exposure to lead is a public health issue everywhere and paint factory employees, mine workers, painters, tile layers, tile makers and drivers are just a few occupations that have been identified as higher risk for lead poisoning.
Health Dangers of Exposure to Lead
Lead is dangerous to nearly all systems in the body. It is one of several toxic metals that cause damage by inducing oxidative stress. Because lead tends to accumulate in the body, it can simply sit there and be a continued source of harmful free radicals. What might be even more scary is that the dangerous effects of lead exposure are often irreversible.
Lead exposure is perhaps best associated with its negative affect on overall intelligence. This is due to the brain being especially vulnerable to poisoning and intoxication. Lead poisoning affects the brain similar to the way that drug abuse does. Those that are exposed experience a suppressed immune system, which leads to a slew of problems. Another effect that is very common is increased blood pressure.
First signs of lead poisoning include:
- irritability or behavioral problems
- difficulty concentrating
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- sluggishness or fatigue
- abdominal pain
- vomiting or nausea
- pallor (pale skin) from anemia
- metallic taste in mouth
- muscle and joint weakness or pain
Long-term lead poisoning symptoms can include:
- decreased bone and muscle growth
- poor muscle coordination
- speech and language problems
- seizures and unconsciousness (in cases of extremely high lead levels)
- damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing
- developmental delay
Children and Lead Exposure
There is no question or debate that exposure to lead negatively impacts the health of children. This is even true for trace amounts, as no safe levels of lead for children have been identified. Affected areas in children include the nervous system, which results in behavior and learning, in addition to comas, seizures, and even death. In the U.S., the most common source of lead exposure for children is the dust from lead based paints. However, incidents of exposure from low quality trinkets and toys seems to pop up on an almost regular basis.
Each year in the U.S., 310,000 children between the ages of 1- to 5-year-old are found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms, from stomach pain and headaches to behavioral problems and anemia (not enough healthy red blood cells).
Lead poisoning is also a huge concern for women who are pregnant. Chronic, low-level exposure to lead can accumulate in the bones and remain immobile until pregnancy occurs, and the calcium demands are increased. This can “dislodge” deposits of lead into the blood stream and allow them to cause harm to pregnant women and be extremely detrimental to the developing fetus.
Working or living in areas that are more susceptible to contamination of lead can be very dangerous. Higher levels of lead in the environment result in a low and slow chronic exposure to lead that can hinder child brain development. If children have parents or guardians whose occupations are exposed to lead dust, studies have shown that these children are highly susceptible to “second hand” exposure through the clothing of their parents. Dust carried by clothing is a source of contamination for the home, which only further affects children and all who reside there.
On the international side, the rapid development of economy and mineral processing in China has caused a serious lead pollution problem. A substantial amount of lead has been released into the environment which has impacted soil, water, and farming efforts. The blood levels of lead in children from China are significantly higher than other developed countries. Lets not forget, these days it seems like everything in America is “made in China.”
Efforts to Reduce Exposure to Lead
Even though most water utilities are within compliance of the Safe Drinking Water Act Lead and Copper Rule of 1991, lead in the water supply still remains a problem in certain areas. Public water sources should always be monitored for possible contamination. According to Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives, lead is the most prevalent toxin found in water within the schools in U.S. Yet it’s such a big mystery why U.S. test scores have dropped to the lower half of the world. There is a need to reevaluate this largely overlooked exposure source to better address lead poisoning in children.
Purdue University’s Department of Earth Sciences warns that even though significant progress has been made to understand and reduce the risks of lead exposure, cases of poisoning are still unacceptably high in many areas, especially urban areas. Research show that the probable reason for this is due to the presence of lead (likely from old paint dust) in soil. They advise that when construction products are undertaken, a process known as “capping” the lead contaminated soil with lead-free soil is a simple, effective method that helps reduce incidences of lead exposure.
Lead can found in:
- House paint prior to 1978. Even if the paint isn’t peeling, it can still be a problem. Lead paint is extremely dangerous when it is being sanded or stripped. These actions will release fine lead dust into the air.
- Furniture and toys painted before 1976
- Decorations and toys that are painted and made outside the U.S.
- Lead bullets, curtain weights, and fishing sinkers
- Plumbing, faucets, and pipes. Lead can be found in drinking water in homes that contain pipes that were connected with lead solder. Although new building codes require lead-free solder, lead can still be found in some modern faucets.
- Soil contaminated by decades of car exhaust or years of scrapings from house paint. Lead is much more common in soil near houses and highways.
- Hobbies that involve stained glass, soldering, painting, jewelry making, pottery glazing, and miniature lead figures (always check labels)
- Children’s paint sets and art supplies (always check labels)
- Storage batteries
- Pewter pitchers and dinnerware
Treatment and Solutions
Modern medicine’s way of treatment for children with severe cases and extremely high lead levels in their blood will be hospitalization to receive a medication called a “chelating agent”, which chemically binds with lead, and makes it weaker so that the body can get rid of it.
Natural methods of treatment would be a heavy metal detox, like Zeotrex, which is a highly effective method of organic and natural cleansing. When opting for a detox program, make sure the ingredients used are of natural and/or organic origin. Natural is always better.
If you suspect you may have lead paint in your house, get advice on the safe removal from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 800-RID-LEAD, or the National Information Center at 800-LEAD-FYI. Another excellent source of information is the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-5323.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
You can protect yourself and your family from lead poisoning by ensuring that your home is free of lead. Ask your local health department about having your home evaluated for sources of lead.
These additional tips can help you reduce the risk of lead exposure:
- Be wary of old plumbing. Old plumbing could possibly be lined with lead. If you have a plumbing system that is old (in homes built before 1970), which used copper pipes and lead solder, you might want to get your water tested. You can call your water department or local health department to find a lab that will test your water for lead, or consider purchasing your own water test kit. Additionally, you can take precautionary measures to limit your exposure such as letting cold water run for 30 seconds before using it, and due to the fact that hot water absorbs more lead than cold, don’t use hot tap water for cooking or meals.
- Keep your family and your home clean. Keep dusty surfaces clean with a wet cloth, and have your family wash their hands and toys frequently.
- Ensure that vitamin c, iron, and calcium are in your diet. If exposed to lead, good nutrition can reduce the amount of lead absorbed by the body. Eating regularly is additionally helpful, as lead is absorbed more during times of fasting.
- Know where your kids play. Keep them away from the underside of bridges and busy roads.
Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.
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