For centuries, lead toxicity has been one of the most significant preventable causes of neurologic morbidity from an environmental toxin. A heavy metal, lead is ubiquitous in our environment but has no physiologic role in biological systems. Lead toxicity is a particularly insidious hazard with the potential of causing irreversible health effects. It interferes with a number of body functions primarily affecting the central nervous, hematopoietic, hepatic and renal system producing serious disorders. Acute toxicity is related to occupational exposure and is quite uncommon. Chronic toxicity on the other hand is much more common. Research on the effects of lead on adults has prompted the suggestion that acceptable levels of lead in adults be dropped almost to those of children.
The ongoing emphasis on abatement of lead environments places added emphasis on occupational exposure to lead (eg, among workers at smelters or battery recycling plants). Such exposure is a continuing problem. Whereas occupational exposure remains an occasional concern, the greatest public health issue related to lead at present is exposure of young children to decaying fragments of leaded paint.
Pediatric lead poisoning
Compared with adult lead poisoning, pediatric lead poisoning is a somewhat newer problem. First reported in the late 1800s in Australia, interest in childhood lead poisoning and its manifold clinical presentations has burgeoned. It should be noted that toxic metals, including lead, can be transmitted from a mother to her child via breast milk.
Lead poisoning is probably the most important chronic environmental illness affecting modern children. Despite efforts to control it and despite apparent success in decreasing incidence, serious cases of lead poisoning still appear in hospital emergency departments (EDs), clinics, and private physicians’ offices.
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The first step of treatment is to locate and remove the source of the lead. Keep children away from the source. If it cannot be removed, it should be sealed. Call your local health department for information on how to remove lead. They can also help you reduce the likelihood of lead exposure.
In more severe cases, a procedure known as chelation therapy can be used. This treatment binds to lead that has accumulated in your body. The lead is then excreted in your urine.
Activated charcoal can be used to bind the lead in the gastrointestinal tract and encourage elimination via defecation. A chemical called EDTA may also be used
Even with treatment, it can be hard to reverse the effects of chronic exposure.
What is the outlook for lead poisoning?
Adults with moderate exposure usually recover without any complications.
In children, recovery can take time. Even low lead exposure can cause permanent intellectual disability.
How can lead poisoning be prevented?
Simple steps can help you prevent lead poisoning. These include:
Avoid or throw away painted toys and canned goods from foreign countries.
Keep your home free from dust.
Use only cold water to prepare foods and drinks.
Make sure everyone washes their hands before eating.
Test your water for lead. If lead levels are high, use a filtering device or drink bottled water.
Clean faucets and aerators regularly.
Wash children’s toys and bottles regularly.
Teach your children to wash their hands after playing.
Make sure any contractor doing work in your house is certified in lead control.
Use lead-free paint in your home.
Take young children for blood lead level screening at their pediatrician’s office. This is usually done around 1 to 2 years of age.
Avoid areas where lead-based paint may have been used.
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It’s been 14 and a half years since Wayne Rooney first burst on to the scene for England as a 17-year-old striker, making his debut against Australia in a friendly at Upton Park in February 2003.
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