Facts on Lead Poisoning for the Curious Consumer

Globally, advocates of public health and safe living have been studying the impact of Lead on the environment for years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified 10 chemicals that pose a threat to public health, one of which happens to be Lead. Facts shared by WHO on Lead are:

    • Lead, a highly toxic substance, adversely affects human organs and the health of young children.
    • The Lead that enters the human body is distributed across the kidney, liver, brain, and bones.
    • Lead exposure is measured through the amount of Lead present in the blood.
    • Lead in bones can remain for a long time, and a pregnant woman with Lead exposure puts the fetus at risk.
    • Lead poisoning can be avoided through preventive measures.

Lead is present all around – in the soil, in water, in air, and even inside homes.  Lead has its practical uses in the industrial products, for example, in the leaded gasoline, energy, ammunition, smelting, and plumbing industries. Lead, though once used heavily in industrial applications, has now started to decline due to its harmful characteristics. According to Learn about Lead published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while Lead has some beneficial uses, it can be highly toxic to humans and animals leading to permanent health impairments.

The presence of Lead in soil is typically between 50 and 400 parts per million, and if it gets released in the air for any reason, water, and soil even located far away get affected due it. In the Unites States, the Federal and state regulatory authorities have joined hands to reduce the amount of Lead in air, soil, drinking water, and consumer products through scientific procedures.

Even though the warning signals on Lead were widely published in the medical and scientific literature of the 19th Century, these early warning signs were completely overlooked till the 1970’s, when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to campaign for safe Lead practices. The active campaigns conducted by regulatory authorities like EPA and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally resulted in the ban on use of Lead in paint and coating manufacturing in 1978.

Why Has Lead Been Banned?

According to EPA, Lead has the following harmful characteristics:

  • A small amount of Lead dust can end up contaminating a large area.
  • If inhaled, Lead particles can reach the brain through the bloodstream and cause severe damage to the brain and the nervous system.
  • Intense exposure to Lead dust can cause learning problems and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

Lead Ban in the Paint Manufacturing Industry

Lead present in paint or pigments is one of the most common causes of Lead poisoning. Research states that Lead in paints can prove lethal if accidentally inhaled or swallowed. Federal regulatory organizations like the CDC or EPA have consistently maintained that even small amounts of Lead dust or particles may result in health risks. Any home painting or home renovation project can be a health hazard for the painter as well as for the other family members or pets in a household.  EPA’s RRP Program for renovation, repair and paint projects has been a major force in legislating policies to ban Lead from the paint manufacturing industry. The RRP Program has mandated stringent policies to enforce certification for construction firms and contractors handling lead-based paints.

The Government of Australia Report states that the permissible amount of Lead in domestic paint has been reduced from 50% before 1965, to 1% in 1965. This number was further reduced to 0.25% in 1992, finally settling at 0.1% in 1997.

Voluntary Measures Taken by Global Paint Companies

In 2015, the European Union mandated the removal of Lead chromate pigments from the paint manufacturing industry. This resulted in a general ban on lead-based pigments among European pigment manufacturers. In 2012, DuPont discontinued the use of all Lead based pigments in their automotive paint products. Shortly afterward, AkzoNobel, the largest player in the worldwide paint industry, decided to remove the use of added Lead compounds in all of their paint and coating products.

IPEN, established in 1998, leads 700 organizations across 116 countries to campaign for a safe environment and safe living conditions. IPEN’s Global Lead Paint Elimination Campaign is a strong advocate for eliminating the use of lead-based paints. To this end, IPEN is always striving to frame safe chemicals policies to free this world from toxic substances and enrich the global environment and human health.

Lead Exposure Harms Pregnant Women and Children

If a pregnant woman has Lead in her bloodstream, that toxic element can easily reach the unborn child’s system and cause permanent brain damage. High levels of Lead in a pregnant woman can even cause birth complications, miscarriages, or still born babies. Even after a child is born, the breastfeeding mother is still at a risk of transferring the Lead contamination in her body to the newborn child through the breast milk. Frequently, infants exposed to Lead have been known to suffer from learning impairments in later life. CDC and National Center for Health Statistics jointly monitor blood Lead levels in the United States.

Prolonged exposure to Lead can cause severe damage to children and unborn children in their mother’s wombs. Lead circulates quickly through the human blood stream. Once Lead particles settle in a human body, it can remain in the bones and tissues for a long time. If a small child accidentally ends up swallowing a chipped paint flake or paint particle, the blood-lead level in that child will immediately rise and remain for many weeks. The toxic chemical has reportedly remained in human bodies for entire lifetimes.

The CDC document, Lead Levels in Children: Fact Sheet reports that the increased awareness about Lead hazards has resulted in lowering the threshold limit for blood Lead level for children. With new regulations, now more children will be tested and identified as Lead exposed victims. This new awareness will hopefully encourage the medical community, parents, and public health organizations to work collaboratively to eradicate Lead exposure in children.

CDC’s learn more about lead data provides an accurate analysis of how the Lead blood level data in children are sampled, collected, and analyzed for statistical purposes. The above fact sheet points out that children under five years of age are especially vulnerable to Lead poisoning as they tend to put their hands in their mouths and absorb more Lead in their blood than adults do.

Mayo Clinic, the reputed medical practice, presents useful information about lead poisoning in children and recommends some preventive measures like washing hands after playing or before eating, cleaning dust, running cold water before every use, avoiding soil exposure, and so on. This article also provides insights on preventive measures during a home renovation.

Now globally, Governments are working to eliminate the use of lead-based pigments in decorative paints, which are broadly used in toys and children’s products.

Lead Exposure: Next Course of Action

Two reliable resources in the medical fraternity provide excellent guidance on what to do in case of an accidental lead exposure. First, do not panic.

Health Line talks about the typical symptoms of lead poisoning, which everyone should be aware of. This article also discusses probable preventive measures in case any of the mentioned symptoms is noticed in an adult or a child. On the other hand, WebMD explains probable precautionary measures that adults can take to protect another adult, child, or a pregnant woman from Lead exposure.

A Voice of Hope

As extensive literature reaffirms the highly toxic nature of Lead, the global public health organizations and regulatory authorities are finally taking notice. Modern science will hopefully be able to remove Lead from our environment one day. As the adverse effects of Lead exposure and Lead poisoning continue to be publicized, more and more Governments and regulatory bodies are joining hands to completely ban the use of lead-based paints and pigments in consumer products. Despite efforts by government, if you suspect or come across symptoms that even remotely may be related to Lead poisoning, contact your healthcare provider immediately.