Who is at Risk
Who is Susceptible to Lead Poisoning?
All humans are vulnerable to lead poisoning. However, the younger age groups are more susceptible to lead’s toxicity. This is true even though others portions the population may experience higher exposure levels.
Why Are Children More Susceptible?
As a neurotoxin, lead is especially dangerous to pregnant women, unborn fetuses infants and children under 7 years of age who are in the stages of rapid brain and nervous system development.1,2 Lead poisoning disrupts this process causing cognitive impairment, behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Susceptibility is heightened for young children because they frequently put their hands and other objects tainted with lead into their mouths. Because elevated blood lead levels in pregnant mothers can affect their unborn child, abnormal development due to lead poisoning can occur even before birth. As children mature, they do not outgrow the disabilities caused by lead poisoning.3
Where are Lead Exposes Found?
One area of great notoriety is U.S. housing stock built before the government banned lead paint in 1978. This exposure risk is especially high with structures built prior to 1950. This exposure can escalates when renovation and remodeling projects create toxic paint chips that are more easily ingested or inhaled. Paint chips from exterior wall renovations can also get mixed into the soil surrounding the structure, increasing the risk of poisoning when children play outdoors.
Although lead paint is the most well known cause of lead poisoning, soil containing this toxic metal is a common problem in both urban and suburban areas.4 This contamination resulted from decades of automobiles burning leaded gasoline and factories generating lead contaminated emissions.
The use of leaded gasoline in America began in the 1920s and its widespread use continued until the late 1980s.5 During these 60+ years millions of cars exhausted fumes containing lead particles. Carried on the wind, this pollution spread away from the roadways until it eventually settled onto lawns, gardens, parks, playgrounds and schoolyards. This is where it all remains today. Blowing wind continues to circulate these lead particles into open windows and neighboring properties.
Unlike leaded paint which can be safely removed, the lead-in-soil problem is so pervasive that remediation becomes impractical and extremely expensive. Until more cost effective abatement methods are developed, lead in soil will remain a widespread and dangerous cause of childhood lead poisoning.
Are There Other Lead Exposures?
People can come into contact with lead in a variety of ways. Common examples include:
- New housing developments built upon old industrial sites polluted with toxic metals such as lead.
- Traditional, imported, and handmade dishware, pottery and china are sometimes made with glazes containing lead.
- Toys and antique furniture decorated with lead-based coatings and paints.
- Consumer products such as lipstick (particularly imported items) can contain lead.
- Water sources using lead pipes.
- Contaminated foods, such as Chapulines, some Mexican candies and even some imported spices.
- Materials used for hobbies involving stained glass making, refinishing old furniture, jewelry making, fishing, hunting, and antique weapon collecting.
- Certain occupations such as plumbing, firearms instruction and painting contractors can experience expose to lead containing products and materials.
- Recycled rubber tire-based products used in parks and playgrounds
- Establishing a health based standard for lead in residential soils, Reagan, P.L. & E.K. Silbergeld, Hemphill and Cothern, eds. Trace substances in environmental health, supplement to Volume 12, (1990) of Environmental Geochemistry and Health.
- Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips At Risk Populations: Pregnant Women, Center for Disease Control, Accessed 23 October, 2014.
- Low-level environmental lead exposure in childhood and adult intellectual function: a follow-up study, Mazumdar, M, DC Bellinger, M Gregas, K Abanilla, J Bacic and HL Needleman, Environmental Health 10:24, 2011.
- Estimation of Leaded (Pb) Gasoline’s Continuing Material and Health Impacts on 90 US Urbanized Areas, Mielke Laidlaw Gonzales, Environment International, 2010
- The U.S. Experience with the Phase Down of Lead in Gasoline, Richard G. Newell and Kristian Rogers, June 2003.