Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil or from playing with toys with lead paint.
Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may also breath lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure as can certain folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.
What are the Health Effects of Lead?
Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead.
Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
- Behavior and learning problems
- Lower IQ and Hyperactivity
- Slowed growth
- Hearing Problems
In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the fetus the lead. This can result in serious effects to the mother and her developing fetus, including:
- Reduced growth of the fetus
- Premature birth
- Lead can be transmitted through breast milk
Lead is also harmful to other adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:
- Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
- Decreased kidney function
- Reproductive problems (in both men and women)