For centuries, lead toxicity has been one of the most significant preventable causes of neurologic morbidit...
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.