Recent concerns related to lead have prompted many questions. The following is intended to provide insight into why lead is a problem and some of the common sources of lead.
Why is Lead a Problem? — Lead, a heavy metal, can accumulate in the body when consumed orally and interfere with chemical reactions in the body. It can result in decreased performance in school, permanent learning disabilities, kidney problems, liver damage, nerve problems, high blood pressure, immune system failure, convulsion, comma, brain damage, and in severe cases, death. In pregnant women, lead poisoning can lead to premature birth and babies with low birth weight, mental retardation, nerve damage, and impaired blood formation, and to infant mortality. Serious learning and behaviour disabilities are seven times more likely to occur in children exposed to low-levels of lead over an extended time (New England Journal of Medicine — 01/11/90). Lead poisoning in children can seriously damage a child’s brain and central nervous system. It can also cause attention span deficits, impaired hearing, reading and learning disabilities, and even, reduced IQ scores.
Although adults may suffer various ailments due to excessive lead in their blood, the groups most at risk from exposure to lead are fetuses, infants, and children under seven. Since the fetus is at risk from high blood-lead levels in the mother, pregnant women and women of child bearing age must also be aware of the hazards of high blood-lead levels. Children are especially at high risk because they routinely ingest non-food items contaminated with lead.
How serious is the lead poisoning problem? In the US a study by National Health & Nutrition showed that of those surveyed, 50% of the adults and 88% of the pre-school children had high blood-lead levels. Of those, 9.1% met the Centres for Disease Control standards for lead poisoning. Approximately 3 to 40 million American children have damaging levels of lead in their blood. The US Food and Drug Administration has found that nearly 10% of all imported ceramics may release lead into food.
Lead is considered dangerous at any level.
Sources of Lead — Humans are being exposed to lead from numerous sources including, paint pigments, automobile and industrial emissions, surface and ground water, and some forms of solder. Common household examples of where lead can be found may include, water, dinnerware, pottery & ceramics (most commonly form Mexico and Italy), toys, soil, dust, food cans, antiques, and furniture. Most recently, inexpensive imported mini-blinds, have been found to be lead contaminated.
Lead dust is a special concern because the smaller lead particles can be more easily transported and absorbed by the body. For example, lead-based paint dust can come from the normal abrasion of painted surfaces such as the opening and closing of windows. For young children this can be hazardous because they play on the floor and engage in a great deal of hand-mouth activity.
In soil, lead dust can accumulate and contaminate it. For years, lead-based exterior paints were designed to “chalk”, or lose some their surface when they are washed off by rain, to remain looking newer. For younger children who play in this soil or track it into the house it can increase lead levels in the home.