Various sources of lead

Why Should We Care About Lead?

by Angelique Frausto on February 20, 2014

People often think lead poisoning is a problem of the past. This is far from true. Lead occurs naturally and has been used in various human activities throughout history because it is malleable, doesn’t rust or corrode and binds easily with other metals. It has been “mined, smelted, refined, and used” in a wide range of products like paint, toys, gasoline, pipes and ceramics but can be toxic to humans and animals when it is ingested or inhaled. Because of its use, lead is found everywhere throughout the environment: in soil, water, air and food.  Poisoning is entirely preventable, but leads to many health problems throughout every system of the body, especially within children younger than six years of age.  Lead can cause neurological damage impairing brain functions, causes a slow down of growth and development, hearing and speech damage, and behavioral issues which make it difficult for people to keep focus.  It also can cause anemia, kidney damage and birth defects. The most vulnerable populations are babies, children and pregnant women.

The most prominent forms of lead poisoning is in paint. Lead paint is the largest source of poisoning and is found in many homes built before 1978. The paint in these homes is sweet and cracks and peels and forms lead dust, which children then ingest from their hands and toys. Many people with lead poisoning are asymptomatic; yet still suffer health consequences from its effects, which is why it is important to test at risk populations.

The United States has attempted to protect against poisoning in various ways. Lead based house paint was phased out in the United States with the passage of the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act in 1971.  In 1978 lead based house paint was banned. Also in 1978 occupational lead exposure was limited by permissible exposure limits. In 1980 the National Academy of Sciences reported leaded gasoline was the greatest source of lead contaminations.  It began to be phased out, but some areas of the country still had leaded gasoline until 1991. In 1991 the U.S also prohibited manufacturing of lead-soldered food or soft drink cans. Some other common sources of lead are found within occupational exposures, PCV plastic and children’s products, especially those coming from lower income countries.

There are many laws to protect people from lead poisoning.  The federal Medicaid Act requires children under 6 who receive medicated to be tested every year. Older children on Medicaid who are considered at high risk must also be screened. The poor are more likely to get lead poisoning, and also less likely to go to doctors because of lack of money/insurance or other barriers. Developing countries are also more likely to utilize lead, such as China, which has had mass poisonings in the past. Throughout the world, most lead is found in soil, because it is being dumped in landfills (from items such as batteries). Imported items may still be a lead hazard, so it is important that consumers are aware of this.

In the U.S 4 million households have children with high exposures to lead. In affected populations the solution is to remove people from lead, or remove lead from their environment. Once damage occurs, there is a chance of it never fully being reversed, so prevention is very important through screening and awareness. Some steps are increasing awareness, getting homes tested, keeping children away from lead paint, giving children healthy foods and safely renovating. Awareness can be raised through doctors, schools and even mass media. Sesame Street had a lesson on lead, stating the best way to avoid lead poisioning are hand washing, staying away from peeled paint, and going to the doctors to be tested. There are also programs that offer methods of exposure reduction. Reducing lead poisoning is a responsibility of both authorities, and parents. If education is pushed and there are larger efforts to eliminate common lead paint sources, lead poisoning can be eliminated.







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