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Lead Paint Poisoning
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Damage Caused By Lead Exposure Lingers Lifetime

Apr 20, 2003 | Pensacola News Journal Few things have a more negative impact on a child`s health than lead poisoning especially during the first six years of life.

"That`s when the brain and the central nervous system are developing at a high rate," said Pam Meyer, an epidemiologist in the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention`s lead poisoning prevention branch.

Once ingested, the toxic metal inhibits a child`s ability to absorb iron, one of the building blocks of brain, nerve and bone development. It also affects a broad range of chemical transmitters that affect hearing, sight and perception.

The resulting brain and nerve damage, experts say, can trigger a cascade of secondary effects that include learning disabilities, hyperactivity and increased aggression. A University of Pittsburgh study two years ago suggested a link between early childhood lead exposure and juvenile delinquency.

"They tend not to do well in school, and that in turn makes them feel angry and depressed," said Dr. Henry Doenlen, a Pensacola child psychiatrist who has worked with lead-poisoned children. "By middle school, kids know who`s bright and who`s not, and the kids who are not don`t tend to get the respect of their peers. Eventually, you see these kids just give up."

Widely used in household paint before the 1950s, lead was banned by the federal government in 1978. It can, however, be found in the paint of many older homes.

Lead can be absorbed through the skin or lungs, but most children are exposed by eating loose paint chips or putting items into their mouths that are contaminated with lead dust fine lead particles found on floors, window sills and doors.

"Parents should be like detectives," Meyer said. "Try to figure out where there are potential sources of lead in their environment and try to remove it."

There aren`t many early warning signs of lead poisoning. Some symptoms include decreased appetite, weight loss, vomiting and irritability. The most common way to treat lead poisoning is to remove the child from contamination.

"But most of the time the damage has been done long ago," said Dr. John Rosen, a pediatrician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

And the effects continue for the rest of a person`s life.

Lead never decomposes. While it can be removed from the bloodstream, most of the lead that is absorbed into a child`s brain remains there, literally, forever.

"It can be devastating," Rosen said.

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