- House paint before 1978
- Art supplies and paint sets
- Contaminated dust from renovations
- Gasoline products (no longer in the US and Canada)
- Bullets, curtain weights, and fishing sinkers made of lead
- Pipes, sink faucets and hot water heaters may have lead solder
- Soil polluted by car exhaust, especially near freeways
- Jewelry, pottery, and lead figures
- Storage batteries
- Some traditional ethnic medicines
Lead is a naturally occurring element in the environment. Most people do have some lead in their blood. Lead poisoning, or excessively high levels of lead, usually occurs over a period of months or years. Lead poisoning occurs when lead is ingested. It can also be caused by breathing in dust that contains lead. You cannot smell or taste lead. It is not visible to the naked eye. The poisoning can cause severe mental and physical damage.
Young children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning because their brains are still developing, up to about age 7. Children get lead in their bodies by putting the lead containing objects, or their contaminated fingers, in their mouths. There is a particularly high risk for children living in old houses with chipping paint.
Symptoms of lead poisoning are varied. They may affect many parts of the body. Most of the time, lead poisoning builds up slowly. It follows repeated exposures to small quantities of lead. Lead toxicity is rare after a single exposure or ingestion of lead. Signs of repeated lead exposure include:
- Abdominal pain and cramps, constipation
- Sleep problems, fatigue and anemia
- Aggressive behavior, headaches and irritability
- Loss of developmental skills in children
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Memory loss
- Kidney dysfunction and high blood pressure
A high, toxic dose of lead poisoning may result in emergency symptoms, and the person should be seen by a doctor right away. These include:
- Severe abdominal pain and cramping, or vomiting
- Muscle weakness. stumbling when walking
- Seizures, coma or confusion
Since a child’s brain is still developing, lead can lead to mental impairment, which can be permanent. Signs of mental impairment may include:
- Behavior problems
- Low IQ
- Poor grades at school and learning difficulties (short and long term)
- Problems with hearing
- Growth delays
Lead poisoning is diagnosed with a blood lead test. Severe lead poisoning is treated with chelation therapy which binds the lead and removes it from the body. However, damage from lead poisoning cannot be reversed.
Simple steps can help you prevent lead poisoning. Some tips include:
- Avoid painted toys and glazed glassware from foreign countries.
- Don’t touch lead fishing weights with bare hands
- Keep your home free from dust.
- Use only cold water to prepare foods and drinks.
- Make sure everyone washes their hands frequently and before eating.
- Wash children’s toys and bottles regularly.
- Use a contractor certified in lead control.
- Screen young children for blood lead levels.