Lead poisoning

Lead is a naturally occurring metal that has been spread through the environment in many ways. Lead used to be in paint and gasoline and can still be found in contaminated soil, household dust, drinking water, lead-glazed pottery and some metal jewelry.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lead poisoning, once a major environmental health hazard, has declined greatly in the past two to three decades. In 1978, elevated levels of lead in the blood occurred in three million to four million children in the U.S. However, that number decreased to approximately 310,000 cases of lead poisoning in children each year, and the number continues to decrease.

The Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention states that children with the highest risk of having elevated blood lead levels live in metropolitan areas and in housing built before 1978. Additional risk factors include being from low-income families and being of African-American or Hispanic origin.

Lead Poisoning Symptoms 

If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from the following:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches
  • Anemia
  • Seizures

In adults, lead poisoning may cause the following:

  • Difficulties during pregnancy
  • Reproductive problems in both men and women
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive disorders
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • High levels of lead may also cause seizures, coma and death

Lead Poisoning Causes

Ingesting dust from deteriorating lead-based paint is the most common cause of lead poisoning among children. Other sources of lead poisoning are dust and soil that are contaminated with lead from old paint and from past emissions of leaded gasoline, tap water in homes that have lead pipes, paint, and dust chips from old toys, furniture and certain hobby materials.

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Occupational and environmental medicine

Northwell Health occupational and environmental specialists are implementing changes to job tasks and the environment to reduce hazardous exposures across a wide range of worplace situations.