Lead is a harmful metal occurring naturally in the earth’s crust and can harm human and animal health. Lead poisoning results from long-term exposure to high levels of lead in the body.
Anyone can get lead poisoning. Children six years and below are, however, more vulnerable. Children as still growing; thus, their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to lead poisoning effects. Lead poisoning can cause severe health complications, and other consequences include learning and behavioral issues and long-term intellectual disabilities.
Sources of Lead Exposure in the Home
Sources of lead poisoning include:
1. Lead in Paint
The federal government prohibited the use of lead-based paints in 1978. As a result, if you live in a home built before that date, it is very likely to have lead-based paint. Today, this paint is still present in older homes beneath layers of new lead-free paint. Lead-based paint is harmless when in good condition; however, it becomes hazardous when it deteriorates through peeling, chalking, cracking, or dampness.
This situation requires immediate attention. When this paint cracks or peels, it emits lead dust, which is hazardous when inhaled. Lead dust will settle on the floor and other surfaces as well. Children get exposed when they put lead-contaminated objects in their mouths and get exposed when they put hands with lead dust in their mouths.
2. Lead in Tap Water
Plumbing materials manufactured before 1986 may contain lead. Lead pipes and brass plumbing fixtures can contaminate tap water with lead. Contamination happens when these plumbing materials corrode, and corrosion occurs when metal wears away from pipes and plumbing fixtures. Corrosion is more intense when the water is acidic or contains low mineral content.
3. Lead in Soil
Some pre-1978 homes may have lead-contaminated soil, playgrounds, and yards. This happens when the lead-based paint peels or flakes, allowing lead into the soil.
Other sources of lead contamination in soil include:
- Use of leaded gasoline in automobiles during the previous years
- Industrial sources
- Contaminated sites such as past lead smelters
- Lead being naturally occurring, maybe in high concentrations in certain areas
Lead-contaminated soil is a dangerous source of lead exposure that can occur through;
- Ingestion by children due to the hand-to-mouth activity common with them
- Eating fruits and vegetables grown in lead-contaminated garden soil
- Inhaling lead in soil suspended in the air
- Lead in the soil as dust particles or on pets, clothing, or shoes
4. Lead in Foods and Other Consumer Products Foods
Some imported consumer goods into the United States may contain lead. Among these items are traditional medicines, toys, and cosmetics. Lead is also in objects whose manufacture is disallowed but handed down generations.
Chili powder and tamarind are two candy ingredients that may contain lead. Candy contamination occurs when the ingredients are not dried, ground, or stored correctly. The ink from candy wrappers may also have lead, which leaches into the candy.
Two candy ingredients that may contain lead are chili powder and tamarind, and the ingredients become contaminated with lead if mishandled. In addition, candy wrapper ink may have lead, which leaches into the candy.
Certain spices imported from Vietnam, Syria, and India also contain lead.
b) Traditional Medicines
Indian, Middle Eastern, and Hispanic cultures use traditional medicines to treat various ailments. Some of these medications may contain lead, which is knowingly or unknowingly added to these medicines during manufacturing, and their packaging may also contain lead.
c) Cosmetics and Jewelry
Lead is prevalent in certain Nigerian cosmetic products such as Tiro. Lead is also present in ‘Sindoor,’ a traditional Hindu cosmetic.
Married women use the red sindoor powder as a visual marital marker by married women.
Lead jewelry can be fatal if swallowed or placed in the mouth. A child died in 2006 as a result of severe lead poisoning, and this was after eating a lead-contaminated heart-shaped metallic char. The charm was attached to a metal bracelet given away free with the purchase of Reebok International Ltd shoes.
Toys manufactured before the ban on the use of lead may contain lead. Additionally, collectibles passed down through generations may expose you to lead poisoning. Children get exposed to lead when they swallow or put in their mouths such toys.
5. Lead in Workplaces and Other Activities
Some jobs may expose you to lead. Such jobs include;
- Lead abatement or lead removal from lead-contaminated buildings or environmental sites
- Demolition of lead-contaminated structures or buildings
- Manufacturing of products such as batteries containing or coated with lead
- Renovation, repair, or remodeling of buildings contaminated with lead
- Recycling materials
- Melting of lead-containing products
- Mineral processing activities such as mining or smelting
- Working with firearms, e.g., military
Some adults also have lead-based hobbies such as pottery making and hunting. These people may also bring lead into their homes on their clothing and shoes. As a result, lead may find its way onto floors, furniture, and other surfaces, exposing family members to it.
Women affected by lead as children may have lead deposited in their bones. During pregnancy, the lead may pass to the fetus.
Symptoms of Lead Poisoning
Those exposed to lead often do not exhibit symptoms. Lead poisoning symptoms do not appear immediately. However, they may develop over time or flare up sporadically.
Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults include;
- Feet and legs numbness
- Abdominal pain
- Personality changes
- Loss of sex drive
Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include;
- Muscle cramps
- Changes in behavior
- Learning problems
Complications from Lead Poisoning
Lead exposure can cause long-term harm, particularly in children. Lead poisoning in children can affect almost all their body systems and organs. Among the effects are:
- Behavioral problems
- Growth delay
- Lowered IQ
- Hearing problems
- Learning difficulties
- Seizure, coma, and even death in elevated blood lead levels
Lead poisoning in grown-ups can lead to serious health complications, including;
- Reproductive issues
- Kidney problems
- High blood pressure
- Younger children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than older children and adults. Young children may consume paint flakes from walls and are likelier to have lead dust on their hands. Young children also absorb lead easily, making it more dangerous.
- Living in homes built before 1978. The government prohibited using lead-based paints in 1978; however, older homes and structures still contain remnants of this paint. People living in or renovating an older home are at a greater risk of lead poisoning.
- Certain hobbies, such as producing stained glass and firearm shooting, are also sources of lead poisoning.
- Living in or traveling to developing countries. Developing countries typically have less stringent lead exposure regulations than developed countries. If you adopt a child from such a country, the child should test for lead poisoning, and children of immigrants and refugees should also test for lead.
Lead Poisoning Prevention
You can prevent lead exposure in the home. Help avoid poisoning lead by doing the following:
- You and, especially, your child should consume nutritious foods. Vitamin C, calcium, and iron-rich foods help protect against lead poisoning
- Wash your hands with soap before eating
- Regularly clean the floors and other surfaces with a damp mop or cloth
- Frequently wash your child’s hands, toys, and bottles
- If living in a house built before 1978, have your home tested for lead. If the paint is peeling or flaking, have it safely repaired.
- Do not attempt to remove lead-based paint on your own.
- Before entering the house, wash your feet and leave your shoes at the door
- Avoid home remedies containing lead
- Stagnant or hot water can leach lead into your tap water if you have lead pipes. Allow one minute for your faucet to run cold water before drinking or cooking
If you are at risk of lead contamination at work, you should:
- Always wear personal protective equipment when at work
- Change your clothing and shoes after work
- Bathe as soon as you get home
Expectant mothers should avoid new lead exposure as lead can harm unborn children by;
- Increasing risk of miscarriage
- Contributing to premature or underweight births
- Causing harm to the baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system
- Increasing your child’s chances of developing learning or behavioral issues
Treating Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning has irreversible consequences. However, you can lower blood lead levels and avoid further exposure, and you can achieve this by identifying and removing lead sources in your home.
In high blood lead levels, your doctor may prescribe a chelating agent, and this medication binds the lead, allowing the body to eliminate it more easily. The healthcare provider may also recommend whole-bowel irrigation, which aims to wash out the stomach contents preventing further lead absorption.