Lead Poisoning

The symptoms of lead poisoning are many with prevention being the only true help

One of the reasons lead is so toxic when ingested is because the body mistakes it for calcium. Once the body makes this mistake, it allows the lead to attach itself to the essential enzymes that are required for the normal functioning of the brain as well as all cells in the body. Once attached, the lead disrupts the enzymes. The human (or animal) body can't metabolize or break down the lead because it is an element, not a nutrient.

All humans are at risk for lead poisoning, but the United States Public Health Service estimates one out of six children in this country alone has enough lead in his or her blood to be considered a high risk. One of the reasons children are at a higher risk is because of their normal inclinations to experiment and taste/ingest non-food items. Babies like to chew on anything from toys to bed rails, window seals to furniture. Toddlers are also fond of tasting toys but will add things like dirt, plants and other possibilities to their taste testing.

There is no cure for lead poisoning and the brain damage it causes is permanent. According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, the most important risk factor for lead exposure is from old paint. They estimate over eighty percent of all the American homes that were constructed before 1978 contain some type of lead based paint. Through the years before 1978 paint manufacturers experimented with progressively decreasing amounts of lead in their products. With this in mind, parents should be aware that the older the house, the higher the possible concentration of lead in the paint.

Many have the misconception that they have nothing to worry about since they have "repainted." Unfortunately this is not the case at all. The older the house, there are usually layers of paint on any given wall or trim surface. Painting over these older paints doesn't remove the risk of lead poisoning, it only hides it.

Other parents consider lead poisoning an unlikely problem that seldom happens. Recent estimates tell a different story. Approximately 890,000 children between age one and five living in the United States have elevated levels of lead in their blood streams. Another estimate states over one-fifth of African-American children who live in any type of housing built before 1946 have dangerously elevated blood lead levels.

Paint is the most commonly know culprit of lead poisoning but it is by no means the only one. Lead doesn't break down in the environment any more than it does in the body. Adults and children can be exposed to the deadly substance through dirt, dust and even old water pipes. Back when there was no "unleaded" version of gasoline, lead was spewed forth from vehicles, boats, lawn mowers airplanes and all other engines in their exhaust emissions. This emission lead settled on all available surfaces.

Parents should ask their pediatrician if they are at all concerned about the possibility of exposure to their children. There is no cure for lead poisoning but the blood test to check for it is a simple procedure and can prevent a ruined lifetime or even the death of a child from lead exposure.

Lead Poisoning can produce any or all of the following symptoms and effects:

1. Headaches

2. Irritability

3. Learning disabilities

4. Behavioral problems

5. Irritability

6. Vomiting

7. Abdominal pain

8. Seizures

9. Anemia

10. Coma

11. Slowed speech development

12. Unexplainable weight loss

13. Poor attention span

14. Hyperactivity

15. Death

16. Lowered I.Q.

17. Neurological problems

18. Mental Retardation

19. Liver disease

20. Kidney disease or failure

21. Strokes

22. Heart disease

23. Reproductive problems

24. Fatigue

25. Slow growth

26. Muscle and joint pain

27. Death

Large, single dose levels are not necessary for a human to develop lead poisoning. In fact, small doses over an extended period of time are more likely.

These small doses can be caused by something as simple as opening and closing your windows. Each time a window is opened, there is a fine layer of paint that is turned to dust. As the wind blows into the home, the dust is then transferred to surrounding areas. To prevent your family from inhaling or ingesting this dust, window seals, floors, stairs, furniture and any other surface in the house should be mopped or wiped down with a damp sponge.

When remodeling or repainting, masks should be worn at all times when dealing with old paint and tarps should be used to cover every available surface, bed, chair, stuffed toy or anything else that the resulting dust could settle on.

If you do live in an older house, there are tests that can be done on the paints and water to check for lead levels. If you find you do live in a contaminated home, your county health or environmental agency can recommend procedures to lower or remove the lead from the home. The most common suggestions will include:

1.Wiping and mopping all surfaces regularly to remove lead dust. Remember that the windowsills, floors, porches, stairs and hand railings are hot spots for lead accumulation. Another possible hot spot could be your child's stuffed animals. When ever possible, wash these.

2. Don't vacuum hard wood floors in contaminated houses. The vacuum causes the lead that has settled upon the floor to become airborne and it will often blow directly up into the face of the person using the vacuum cleaner.

3. Good hygiene in children is always recommended but especially in contaminated homes. Have them wash their hands frequently and always before eating.

4, Eat low-fat, nutritious meals that are high in calcium and iron. Increasing calcium and iron by such things as low-fat milk, cheese, broccoli and spinach helps to inhibit the body from absorbing lead. Fat on the other hand actually aids in the absorption of lead into the body.

5. Remove the contamination.

There are special contractors in many of the larger cities whose business is to come into a home or building and remove the lead. Your local agencies should be able to furnish you with a list of these contractors but be warned, they do not come cheap. But then, how much is the life of your family worth?

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