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Lead Poisoning

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Sources of Lead Poisoning

Lead is a soft, highly toxic metal. It occurs naturally in the earth, but is spread through the environment by human activities. For many years, it was used in products found in and around homes, including paint and gasoline.

Lead can be found in:

  • Air
  • Contaminated soil
  • Drinking water
  • Household dust
  • Inexpensive metal jewelry
  • Lead-based paint
  • Lead crystal
  • Lead-glazed pottery
  • Paint on some toys
  • Pipes in old homes

Until 1978, lead paint was commonly used on the interiors and exteriors of homes. Some outdoor structures are still painted with lead paint. Over time, this paint can chip and release lead dust into the air.

Lead paint in older homes remains the most common source of lead poisoning for children in the United States. Old pipes may also be made of lead, which can seep into tap water.

There is lead in the air. For many years, lead was used in gasoline. Millions of tons of lead were released into the environment through car exhaust.

Lead Can Cause Serious Health Effects

Lead poisoning has been linked to lower IQ scores in children exposed to even low levels of lead.

Exposure in adults can cause:

  • Fertility problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nerve disorders

Most adults who are lead poisoned get exposed at work. Occupations at risk for lead exposure include those that involve:

  • Firing ranges
  • Maintenance and repair of bridges and water towers
  • Manufacture and disposal of batteries
  • Renovation and remodeling
  • Smelting (producing metal)
  • Welding

Although there are medications that can remove lead from the body, they do not appear to undo the damage caused by lead.

Protect Your Family

Prevention is the best way to stop lead poisoning. If you live in an older home:

  • Do not allow children to eat paint chips.
  • Ask your local health department to test for lead in your tap water before you use it for drinking and cooking.
  • Hire professionals to paint over old lead paint and to remove hazardous materials such as old pipes.

Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.