What is Lead Toxicity?

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  • Written By: L. Hepfer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Lead toxicity, also commonly referred to as lead poisoning, happens when the body is exposed to an environment that contains lead. Increased levels of lead in the blood can affect physical and mental developments in children, and overexposure to lead can ultimately lead to death. Lead can be found in a number of things, and various steps can be taken to protect you and your family from lead toxicity.

Lead is a natural metal that is found within the earth; however, various activities by man, such as burning fossil fuels and mining, have caused lead to be found in more places. These include the earth's soil, water, imported canned foods, household dust, cosmetics, traditional medicines and paint. Lead has been used as an ingredient in creating gasoline, batteries, pottery, solder, plumbing materials and roofing materials.

Causes of lead contamination vary. Soil becomes contaminated when lead particles from paint or gasoline settle onto the ground. Water becomes contaminated when it runs through pipes and plumbing fixtures that have been soldered with lead. The lead then releases particles into the water, and the water becomes contaminated.

Lead-based paints were used to paint homes and children's toys in the United States until 1978. Older homes still contain lead-based paint unless the home has been renovated and the paint has been removed and replaced with a newer product. Glazes that have been used in coating porcelain, china and ceramics can cause the lead to spread into food.


The United States banned canned food from being soldered with lead; however, other countries still use it. Certain cosmetics and some traditional medicines can also pose a risk of lead poisoning. While children usually are exposed to lead through household products, adults are generally exposed at their place of employment.

Symptoms of lead toxicity usually occur once a large amount has accumulated within the body over an extended period of time. Children who suffer from prolonged lead exposure may show signs of weight loss, a loss of appetite, irritability, vomiting, constipation, abdominal pain, fatigue and learning disabilities. Newborns that are exposed to lead while still in their mother's womb tend to grow slower and experience learning disabilities.

Adults who suffer from lead toxicity may develop high blood pressure or mentally decline as they get older. The symptoms they experience might include memory loss, headaches, mood disorders, muscle weakness, fatigue, and a reduced sperm count in men. Miscarriages and premature births may occur in women, and pain, tingling sensations or numbness in the extremities may occur in men and women.

Overexposure to lead can lead to irreversible complications in children and adults. Children may suffer from hearing damage, anemia, poor muscle coordination, decreased bone and muscle growth, kidney damage, nerve damage, and behavior, speech and language problems. Adults may experience nerve disorders, cataracts, anemia, muscle and joint pain, damage to the reproductive organs in men, digestive problems, concentration and memory problems and pregnancy and stillbirths in women.

If someone is diagnosed with lead toxicity, they may be given iron supplements to counteract the anemia. A certain medication can be administered through chelation therapy that will cause the lead to bind with the medication and be removed from the body through the urine. For severe cases of lead poisoning a physician may recommend treating the blood with ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), a chemical that helps rid the body of lead. EDTA therapy may be administered in one or more treatments.



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