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Lead Poisoning is a Preventable Childhood Disease
In October, 1991, the Department of Health & Human Services (Centers for Disease Control) issued a statement entitled Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children.
In that important document the CDC stated the following:
- Childhood lead poisoning is one of the most common pediatric problems in the United States today, and it is entirely preventable.
Lead poisoning most often occurs when young children (toddlers) start crawling around the home and get lead dust on their hands. These children then engage in normal hand-to-mouth activity and it is this activity during which the child actually becomes lead poisoned.
More severe cases may involve pica where children actually eat lead based paint chips.
By far the most common source of lead poisoning in children is deteriorating lead based paint in older homes.
The Injuries Caused By Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning is defined in the October 1991 Statement by the CDC as a blood lead concentration of 10 ug/dl or greater. However, there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s body. Indeed, serious neurological injury may occur at blood lead levels far lower than10 ug/dl.
Lead is a neurotoxin. Lead is able to pass through the blood brain barrier because of its ability to substitute for calcium (Ca). Once in the brain it causes injury by a number of different mechanisms.
Lead can also cause neuronal death. Once in the body, lead stays for a long time. The half life (assuming there is no more exposure to lead) for lead in the blood is approximately 35 days. This means that it would take approximately 35 days for the lead level to be reduced by one half. However, once lead gets into the brain it will remain stored for about 2 years after exposure has ended. Lead is also stored in bone where it can remain for decades.
The developing nervous system of children is far more vulnerable to lead’s toxic effects than the mature brain.
Long term follow-up studies of children who had been exposed to lead indicate that neuropsychological deficits and changes in IQ persistent to adulthood. Although lead has been documented to decrease IQ as the blood lead levels increase, even more serious decreases were reported for neuropsychological measures – meaning there will be a decrease in neuro- psychiatric function, causing such problems as: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD), Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).
The greatest risk of injury from lead poison is to children under the age of seven, whose developing bodies and brains are sensitive to even small amounts of lead, which can leave children with irreversible neurological injury that does not appear until many years after the exposure to lead. The kinds of injuries lead causes in children include:
- Learning Disabilities
- Brain Damage (sometimes subtle)
- Loss of IQ Points and Intellect
- Academic Failure
- Neuropsychological Deficits
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Hyperactive Behavior
- Antisocial (criminal) Behavior
- Neurological Problems
- Encephalopathy (brain swelling)
- Major Organ FailureComa
These injuries can be life-threatening or can prevent a child from realizing his or her scholastic, vocational, and financial potential, or from becoming a self-sufficient adult. Studies have shown that lead poisoned children are more likely to drop out of high school and to live a lifetime of unemployment. Lead poisoning can take important abilities from a child.
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