By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.
Lead is a neuro-toxic metallic element that can be absorbed by the body, primarily through the lungs and stomach. It is poisonous and toxic to people, especially to children when it is ingested. Generally, lead poisoning occurs slowly, resulting from the gradual accumulation of lead in bone and tissue, after repeated exposure. However, it is important to note that young children absorb 50% of a lead ingestion while adults absorb only 10%. Lead poisoning is one of the most common environmental child health problems in the United States.
Lead enters your body by inhaling or breathing dust that is contaminated with lead. Lead based paint on windows can create such contamination when the windows are repeatedly opened and closed. Lead can also enter the body when you chew on a lead painted windowsill or eat lead paint chips.
Lead poisoning can also occur if you eat or drink something from a container that had lead in it, especially:
- Canned foods that are processed outside of the United States
- Foods that are stored or served in plates or pottery that contain a lead glaze
Decades of peeling exterior building paint, air emissions from leaded car exhaust and pollution from smelters and other industries are significant sources. Water can also be a source of lead if your house has lead pipes or pipes with lead solder. You can also absorb lead through your skin. Fortunately, chewing on pencil, a trait most common amongst children, does not cause lead poisoning as pencil "lead" is now made of graphite, which contains no lead.
Some of the common symptoms of lead poisoning in children are:
- Decreased appetite
- Stomach ache
- Learning problems
- Constipation, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Lowered I.Q.
The only way to find out if your child has lead poisoning is to get a blood test done.
If immediate and proper treatment is not given, lead poisoning can damage many internal organs, including the kidney, nervous system and brain. Because of the possibility of permanent impairment, lead poisoning is particularly dangerous during the critical development periods of infants and young children under the age of seven. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and at very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death. Lead can also pass from the mother to her unborn child before birth. Very high levels of lead can increase the risk of a miscarriage. It can also cause the baby to be born with certain physical deformities.
If you suspect the presence of lead in your house, immediately have your home checked by a qualified inspector. If inspection shows the house has lead-based paint, the family should not renovate or attempt to remove the paint themselves. Lead paint removal should be done only by trained, certified professionals who are experienced in working with hazardous materials and special equipment.
It is possible to prevent lead poisoning. Just make sure that you stop your children from coming into contact with lead and provide immediate treatment to those who have been poisoned by lead.
Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center, http://www.startingadaycarecenter.com.