Childhood Lead Poisoning and the Environment
Lead 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 main source of childhood lead poisoning is from lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older homes. Twenty-four million housing units in the United States have peeling or chipping lead-based paint and high levels of lead-contaminated house dust. Young children live in more than 4 million of these homes.
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.
Lead 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.
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. The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system.
Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death. Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers a blood lead level (BLL) of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) or greater to be elevated and to require individualized case management. However, recent studies suggest that adverse health effects exist in children at blood lead levels less than 10 µg/dL. No safe level of lead exposure has been identified.
Children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults. The first 6 years, particularly the first 3 years, of life is the time when the brain grows the fastest and when the critical connections in the brain and nervous system that control thought, learning, hearing, movement, behavior, and emotions are formed. The normal behavior of children at this age �crawling, exploring, teething, putting objects in their mouth�puts them into contact with any lead that is present in their environment.
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