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Childhood Lead Poisoning

Childhood Lead Poisoning and the Environment

The main source of childhood lead poisoning is from lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older homes. Twenty-four million homes have peeling or chipping lead-based paint and high levels of lead-contaminated dust. More than 4 million of these homes have young children living in them.

People may be exposed to lead by breathing or swallowing lead or lead dust. Once it enters the body, lead can become a health hazard.

Old paint containers stacked up in garageLead from paints, ceramic products, caulking, and pipe solder has been dramatically reduced in the United States due to health concerns. In 1978, lead-based paints were banned from use in homes. Lead has also been removed from gasoline. However, lead can still be found in the environment. People, especially children, are still being exposed.

Lead also occurs naturally in the Earth's crust. It is released in the environment during some activities such as mining, manufacturing, and burning fossil fuels. Lead was once used in paints, gasoline, and some vinyl products, such as mini-blinds. It is still used to make batteries, ammunition, some metal pipes, and devices to shield X-rays.

The health effects associated with lead are the same whether it enters the body through breathing or swallowing. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body, especially the nervous system.

Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems. At very high levels, it can also cause seizures, coma, and even death. Lead poisoning frequently goes unrecognized because it often occurs with no obvious symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers a blood lead level (BLL) of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) or greater to be elevated and to require individualized personal follow-up. No safe level of lead exposure has been identified.

Infant playing with alphabet blocksChildren are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults. The first 6 years of life is critical and is the time when the brain grows the fastest. Connections in the brain and nervous system control thought, learning, hearing, movement, behavior, and emotions which are formed during the first 3 years. The normal behavior of children at this age are crawling, exploring, teething, and putting objects in their mouth that puts them into contact with any lead that is present in their environment.


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