Keeping Children Safe from Lead Poisoning

May 4, 2017

For years, organizations like the World Health Organization have been warning the public about lead. With the widespread use of lead in common consumer products, people are continuing to be exposed to this toxic metal. While lead poisoning does affect the health of every person, regardless of age, its effects magnify in the smaller bodies of children.

People get exposed to toxic lead through the various household goods that contain the metal. People usually receive unwanted exposure by inhaling airborne lead particles or consuming lead leached into food or water.

Once a person inhales or consumes the metal, it quickly reaches many major organs, including the liver, kidneys, and brain. The body then stores the lead in the bones where it accumulates, often to toxic levels. If the metal accumulates too much inside the body, the effects on a person’s health could turn deadly.

Unfortunately, people don’t always notice the symptoms associated with lead poisoning. A person who has had prolonged exposure might have nausea, dizziness, and trouble concentrating or remembering details. They may also experience nausea, abdominal pain, and irritability.

According to WHO, lead poisoning may also cause some cases of stroke, heart disease, and intellectual disabilities. An estimated 850,000 people died because of the health effects of lead poisoning in 2013.

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Increased Risk for Children

Because children are still growing and developing, they face a bigger danger when exposed to lead than do adults. Alarmingly, lead poisoning in children often goes undiagnosed, leading to many cognitive impairments.

In a recent study published in Pediatrics, the Public Health Institute now estimates that more children are affected by lead than experts previously thought. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 4 percent of children tested had toxic lead levels in their bodies.

However, researchers from the Public Health Institute wondered if this number actually accounted for all possible cases. After analyzing the data, researchers found that as many as 1.2 million children could have lead poisoning in the United States. Since this data comes from 1999—2000, this number is likely even higher today.

To find an improved estimate, the researchers used a health survey by the CDC and compared the results with the United States census. They analyzed the number of people in specific categories, such as age, gender, race, and income level. Their findings along with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, are bringing this lead epidemic to the spotlight for health officials.

Effects on Children

For children, the health effects of lead poisoning can be greatly impairing. Lead has shown to decrease a child’s IQ even when exposed to relatively small amounts. If they are exposed to large amounts for a prolonged time, parents will often see developmental problems and delays in learning.

They may also suffer neurological problems such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. In addition, children may have impaired muscle growth and bone density.

In some cases, the children may develop severe lead toxicity. If the levels reach these toxic amounts, children may experience seizures, unconsciousness, and even death.

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How Does Lead Poisoning Happen?

Especially in children, most cases of lead poisoning occur because of lead-based paint used in the home. Young children who live in older houses have the highest risk. To avoid lead poisoning from paint, families should have the house evaluated for lead and learn to seal any rooms that use this type of paint.

Another major source of lead is water, although lead does not occur in water naturally. However, many water systems built before 1980 may use lead in the pipes. Several thousand of these water systems are still in use today and have a dire need for updates.

In addition, many commonly used products such as toys, ceramic dishes, batteries, and cosmetics may contain lead, especially if made outside of the US. These sources should be investigated and avoided if they are found to contain lead.

Although health officials have cautioned people about lead-based products, lead poisoning continues to affect many people. Common goods still use lead in their products today, specifically goods made in foreign countries. Unfortunately, children have a high susceptibility to lead poisoning. Testing for high levels of lead and avoiding goods that contain the metal will do much to protect children from lead poisoning in the US.

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