Beware of Lead Poisoning, are you at risk? 4 things to watch out for
In recent years governments have issued emergency recalls of such consumer products as toys and jewelry. Why? Dangerous levels of lead have been detected in some of these items, and young children tend to suck or chew on them. Lead poisoning can be especially dangerous for children under six years of age, since their central nervous system is still developing.
ACCORDING to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, lead inhibits a protein that is important for brain development and cognition. Studies show that children absorb up to 50 percent of the lead ingested, whereas adults usually absorb only 10 to 15 percent.
Recent research has suggested that even levels of lead that fall under some government-issued toxicity limits may cause harm. The problems, according to the National Safety Council in the United States, can include “learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, and kidney damage” in children. Women who may become pregnant should take extra precautions to avoid exposure because lead can harm the fetus.
Lead can also contaminate food and drink prepared in lead-glazed earthenware, which is customarily used in some parts of Asia and Latin America. Sometimes drinking water is stored in clay pots to keep it cool, and hot beverages are served in glazed mugs. A study of children under five years of age in Mexico City revealed that nearly half the children over 18 months of age had high levels of lead in their blood. Food prepared in glazed ceramics was mentioned as the reason. Lead imparts a smooth, glasslike finish to clay items, but it can leach out, especially from dishware that is heated or exposed to some fruits and vegetables.
Other Sources of Lead Poisoning
Although in recent years most developed countries have phased out lead from their gasoline, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that there are nearly 100 countries in the world that still use leaded gas. Lead does not break down or burn up. Thus, tiny particles from vehicle emissions contaminate the soil along highways. Lead dust is then breathed in or tracked into homes.
Another major source of lead contamination is lead-based paint that was used in homes before laws were enacted to regulate it. In the United States alone, an estimated 38 million homes—40 percent of all housing—has lead paint. Flaking paint or the lead dust resulting from renovations can pose a particular hazard.
Many older cities and homes have lead pipes or lead-soldered copper pipes for water. The Mayo Clinic, a distinguished medical center in the United States, recommends letting cold water from such pipes run for 30 to 60 seconds before you drink it. Hot water from these pipes should not be used at all for drinking and cooking—especially not for preparing infant formula.
Lead levels in the blood greatly decrease when the source of the exposure to lead is removed. People who are concerned about lead in their blood may wish to have a blood test. Health care should be sought if harmful levels are detected.
Lead poisoning can result from the accumulation of lead in the body over a period of time. But a one-time ingestion in sufficient amounts can kill. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2006 a preschooler died from the effects of swallowing a piece of metallic jewelry containing high levels of lead.
Highlighting the need for public awareness, a medical encyclopedia states that, at present, 1 in 20 preschoolers in the United States has high levels of lead in his or her blood. If that is true of a country where the use of lead is regulated, what might be said of lands where such regulations are nonexistent? Indeed, everyone must beware!
Adults can also get lead poisoning, resulting in nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, or problems with memory and concentration.
SOME SYMPTOMS OF LEAD POISONING IN CHILDREN
Abdominal pain, aggressiveness, anemia, attention problems, constipation, fatigue, headaches, irritability, loss of developmental skills, low appetite and energy, slow growth.—MEDLINE PLUS MEDICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA.