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At Low Levels, Lead is Dangerous to Children

Apr 24, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP We have long been writing about the myriad dangers of lead poisoning to our children, adults, and the environment. Now, citing an emerging study, Reuters is reporting that lead, even at what are considered low levels, can have serious effects on the pediatric cardiovascular systems’ stress responses and can also lead to high blood pressure.  

In the study Reuters cited, researchers found that even at what it described as “very low blood lead levels,” much lower than what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list as the “threshold for harmful effects” (10 micrograms per deciliter), a link was found with increased “vascular resistance when the children worked on a stressful computer task.”  Reuters explained that vascular resistance is “a measure of tension within … blood vessels,” and could lead to high blood pressure over time.

The findings were presented by Dr. James A. MacKenzie, of the State University of New York at Oswego, at the American Physiological Society’s yearly meeting and were based on research of 140 healthy teens, said Reuters.  The study also found a link between lead exposure and reduced levels of aldosterone, the body’s blood pressure-regulating hormone.  The research found that the highest lead level in the children studied was 3.8 micrograms per deciliter, significantly lower than the CDC’s threshold of 10 micrograms per deciliter, said Reuters.

Lead poisoning is said to be the most common environmental illness in children in the United States and.  According to the 1997 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 16.4% of children living in cities with over a million people and in homes built before 1946 have elevated lead levels.

Lead poisoning is of serious concern because it is known that in children and fetuses, lead exposure can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems. Once poisoned by lead, no organ system is immune.  Unfortunately, lead poisoning is difficult to recognize because it manifests with subtle symptoms and there are no definitive indicators that point to contamination.  When faced with peculiar symptoms that do not match any one particular disease, lead poisoning should be considered.

Adults develop lead poisoning as the result of occupational exposure, such as from work or a hobby and, in adults, lead is also known to cause cancer and reproductive harm, as well as damage to the nervous system.

Children with lead poisoning may experience irritability, sleeplessness or excess lethargy, poor appetite, headaches, abdominal pain with or without vomiting—and generally without diarrhea—constipation, and changes in activity level.  A child with lead toxicity be iron deficient and pale because of anemia and can be either hyperactive or lethargic.  There may also be dental pointers, for instance, lead lines on gingival tissue.

Many experts have long agreed that lead in any amount is dangerous to children, fetuses, and adults and many consider lead poisoning to be one of the most important chronic environmental illnesses affecting children today.  Despite efforts to control lead, serious cases still occur.


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