Health Concerns of Lead

In 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services called lead the “number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States.” Over the past few decades, the public has become more aware of the dangers of lead and many cities and homeowners have taken appropriate steps to remove lead and lead-based products.  Though these measures have reduced the threat somewhat, lead poisoning is still a serious concern that can cause severe health problems.

Lead was widely used in many building materials before it was discovered how dangerous it was.  It was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products.  Though it is no longer used in most of these products, there are still plenty of old buildings that used lead-based products in their construction.  Lead is also still used in soldering and making stain glass, and those who frequently participate in these activities should take precautions to limit their exposure.

Lead affects almost all body systems.  At high levels (more than 80 micrograms per deciliter of blood), it can cause convulsions or comas and can even be fatal.  Non-lethal levels of lead can permanently damage the nervous system, kidney, and blood cells.  Even relatively low levels of lead can impair mental and physical development, particularly in children.

Children and unborn babies are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because the lead is more easily absorbed by their growing bodies.  Children are also more likely to be exposed to lead because they tend to put their hands in their mouths, ingesting dirt and other substances.  Lead exposure can delay a child’s mental and physical development, causing lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and behavioral problems.

One of the things that makes lead so dangerous is that it can enter a person’s system in many ways.  Humans can be exposed to lead through contaminated air, food and water, soil, and dust.  It can enter the body when a person breathes or swallows contaminated material.

If you have concerns about lead exposure in your home or workplace, you can call the National Lead Information Center Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD (1-800-424-5323) for more information.

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