What Causes Lead Poisoning in Children?

Christina Edwards

Plumbism, or lead poisoning, is a condition in which there are elevated levels of lead in the blood. Lead poisoning in children usually occurs when a child either ingests or inhales lead. Lead can also be absorbed through the skin and prolonged exposure can lead to lead poisoning, but this is less common in children. Children can come in contact with lead through paint, water, food, and pollutants.

Contaminated drinking water is a common cause of lead poisoning in children.
Contaminated drinking water is a common cause of lead poisoning in children.

Before the dangers of lead became known, paint manufactured prior to 1978 often contained large amounts of lead. For this reason, lead poisoning is also sometimes referred to as painter's colic. Ingesting lead-based paint chips is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning in children. Young children, who often have a habit of putting stuff in their mouths, are know for ingesting dried paint chips that have flaked off old walls. While one instance of this will not usually lead to lead poisoning in children, repeatedly ingesting this type of paint could.

Frequently drinking water that is contaminated is another common cause of lead poisoning in children. Water can become contaminated a couple ways. One way the water can become contaminated is through plumbing. Old plumbing and solder was often made from lead, and water passing through these pipes could pick up trace amounts of this poison. Groundwater can also become contaminated by lead through airborne pollutants.

Lead poisoning in children is also prominent in some areas near certain types of industrial plants. Some factories and plants, such as lead smelting plants, emit lead fumes into the air. These fumes can soak into the ground, contaminating the water. Inhaling these fumes for a prolonged period can also usually lead to lead poisoning in children.

Inhaling lead dust, which can be created sanding lead paint, can also lead to lead poisoning. This scenario, however, is a little less common when it comes to younger children, since they are not usually around during this type of remodeling. It is still possible, though, if a child is constantly around lead dust.

Absorbing lead through the skin can also lead to lead poisoning, but this is uncommon. It is possible, however, if a child plays in soil contaminated with large amounts of lead. This can also occur when a child swims or bathes in water heavily contaminated with lead.

Symptoms of lead poisoning typically do not present themselves until the levels of lead in the blood are at dangerously high levels. By then, damage to the kidneys, brain, and other major organs may have already been done. Signs of lead poisoning may include irritability or difficulty learning. Abdominal problems such as pain, vomiting, and constipation can make a child not want to eat, leading to weight loss.

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