About Lead Poisoning

What is Lead Poisoning?
Lead is a heavy metal used in many materials and products. When absorbed into the body, it is highly toxic to many organs and systems and seriously hinders the body’s neurological development. Lead is a natural element and does not break down in the environment. Once lead has been dispersed and redeposited into the environment, it will remain to poison generations of children unless it is controlled or removed. Even very limited exposures to lead are hazardous to children.
The Problem of Childhood Lead Poisoning
Over the past 20 years, childhood lead poisoning has declined dramatically in the United States due to limits on lead in gasoline, paint, food cans, and other consumer products. However, lead poisoning is still an important health problem, affecting an estimated 890,000 preschoolers. That means that about 4.4% of children aged 1 to 5 have too much lead in their bodies. (source: NHANES III, Phase 2, 1991-1994, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
While lead poisoning crosses all socioeconomic, geographic, and racial boundaries, the burden of this disease falls disproportionately on low-income families and families of color. In the U.S., children from poor families are eight times more likely to be poisoned than those from higher income families. African-American children are five times more likely to be poisoned than white children. About 22% of African-American children living in pre-1946 housing are lead poisoned, compared with 5.6% of White children and 13% of Mexican children living in older homes – a staggering statistic. In some communities, the poisoning rate is much higher.
CDC reports that the geometric mean (population-wide average) blood lead level in children aged 1-5 dropped from 2.7 µg/dL (for the years 1991-94) to 2.0 µg/dL for 1999. This substantial decline reflects continuing progress in reducing the lead burden of the American population at large.
Health Effects
Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead is most harmful to children under age six because lead is easily absorbed into their growing bodies, and interferes with the developing brain and other organs and systems. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are also at increased risk, because lead ingested by the mother can cross the placenta and affect the unborn fetus.
At very high levels of lead exposure, which are now very rare in the U.S., lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, coma, convulsions, and even death.
More commonly in the U.S., children are poisoned through chronic, low-level exposure. Low-level lead exposure can cause reduced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia, and a range of other health, intellectual, and behavioral effects. At these low, but still dangerous levels, lead poisoning may not present identifiable symptoms and a blood test is the only way to know if a child is poisoned.
Except for severely poisoned children, there is no medical treatment for this disease. Available treatments may only reduce the level of lead present in the body, without completely eliminating it. The only way to prevent lead poisoning is to remove the source of exposure.

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