Lead exposure has toxic effects on many parts of the body and contributes to serious health problems. Prolonged exposure often leads to permanent injuries, disabilities, and even death.
Lead Exposure and Toxicity
Lead, a common metal found on the ground, has a high toxicity level. The widespread use of lead and human exposure has caused significant health problems, as well as environmental contamination around the world. Lead is used in numerous products including paints, ceramic glazes, jewelry, toys, cosmetics and personal hygiene products, certain medicines, lead pipes, and motor vehicle batteries.
People often become exposed to lead through occupational and environmental sources. In industries that deal with painting and stripping, recycling, smelting, and gasoline fuel, lead particles are usually inhaled. Lead can also be ingested through food stored in lead-glazed containers, water from lead pipes, and lead-contaminated dust. The toxic effects of lead exposure are cumulative, and long-term exposure can cause serious health problems, even death. There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.
Health Risks of Lead Exposure
When lead enters the body, it can travel to internal organs including the liver, kidneys, brain, and bones. Lead is commonly stored in the bones and the teeth, where it accumulates over time. The toxic effects can have a significant impact on brain development and the nervous system and can lead to an increased risk of kidney damage and high blood pressure.
Young children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead from ingestion or inhalation. Undernourished children are at higher risks for lead poisoning because their bodies absorb more lead when other nutrients are lacking. Pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of lead can suffer miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths, and fetal malformations. In 2014, the number of miscarriages rose and fertility rates dropped when high levels of lead were discovered in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan.
The World Health Organization has identified lead as 1 of 10 chemicals that present significant public health concerns. Studies show that high levels of lead typically attack the brain and nervous system leading to convulsions, coma, and death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning are often left with long-term disabilities including decreased intelligence, learning and behavioral disorders, and mental retardation, with irreversible damages. In 2015, data shows that more than 490,000 people died, and more than 9 million suffered serious injuries and permanent disabilities from lead exposure.