Lead Poisoning Poses Serious Threat to ChildrenApr 3, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Many consider lead poisoning to be one of the most important chronic environmental illnesses affecting children today. Exposure to lead in children and unborn children 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. Lead is also known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, lead can damage the nervous system. Despite efforts to control lead and the success in decreasing lead poisoning, serious cases still occur. Once poisoned, no organ system is immune. Of particular concern is the developing brain because negative influences can have long-lasting effects and can continue well into puberty and beyond.
Lead poisoning is said to be the most common environmental illness in children in the US and—although it occurs in all groups—its frequency varies with age, socioeconomic status, community population, race, and the age of the home. 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. Adults develop lead poisoning as the result of occupational exposure, such as from work or a hobby.
A major challenge with lead poisoning is the difficulty in recognizing its subtle symptoms and that no pathognomonic—or definitive—indicators exist or point to contamination. When faced with peculiar symptoms that do not match any one particular disease, lead poisoning should be considered. 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. In adults there may be motor problems and an increase in depressive disorders, aggressive behavior, and other maladaptive affective disorders as well as problems with sexual performance, impotence and infertility, as well as increased fetal wastage and sleep disorders, either. They may be over sleeping or have difficulty falling asleep.
Over 900 occupations have been associated with lead use and poisoning and there are many reports of lead poisoning from retained bullet or shrapnel fragments; history of military or other trauma may be important. Occupations tend to include lead and scrap metal workers, welders, and glassmakers. Parents in any of these occupations may bring lead dust into the home, exposing children. Some hobbies are associated with lead exposures, such as making bullets and fishing weights, soldering, indoor firearm shooting, and remodeling older homes. Some cosmetics and folk remedies contain lead pigments or salts and some reports have documented cases of childhood lead poisoning from the ingestion of lead-based foreign bodies. Lead dissolves quickly in acid solutions such as in the stomach, allowing significant amounts of lead to be absorbed into the body. Illicit alcohol, such as moonshine, has also been linked to lead poisoning.