What’s All the Fuss About Lead?

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Lead poisoning is a condition caused by swallowing or inhaling lead particles. Even small amounts of lead can be dangerous, especially to young children. Because lead is available from many sources, children in nearly all parts of the U.S. are affected by lead poisoning. Symptoms of mild lead poisoning are not very obvious; they usually go undetected or misdiagnosed. Initially, lead poisoning symptoms sometimes resemble other illnesses. Symptoms like stomachache and cramping, irritability, fatigue, vomiting, constipation, headaches and loss of appetite all can be seen in patients with the flu or other similar illnesses. Studies show that high levels of lead, however, can cause damage to all the major organs and the nervous system, to include the brain. Hearing problems, growth interference, and difficulty in learning have all been attributed to lead poisoning. As the lead accumulates in the body, other symptoms like clumsiness, weakness and loss of motor functions can develop. At very high blood levels, lead poisoning can cause convulsions, coma and even death.

Lead can be found in various forms and can come from a variety of sources. Plants, soil and water can be contaminated by lead. Some industrial pollution also contributes to lead accumulation. As a result food can also be contaminated by lead when grown near these contaminated areas or other sources of lead pollution. Food can also be contaminated by lead from storage and cooking containers. The major source of lead poisoning in the U.S. is indoor paint from homes built before 1970. Chipped or peeling lead paint from windows, doors, stairs, woodwork, porches, and pottery pose the greatest risk. Paint manufactured before 1977 should be checked for lead content. Other sources of lead include antique pewter, battery casings, some folk medicines and pottery. Every child starting from the age of one should be screened. Lead poisoning is preventable when detected early. A simple blood test can detect high BLL (blood lead levels). If you suspect someone is suffering from lead poisoning, contact the Texas Poison Center Network immediately at 1-800-222-1222.