What is Lead?

leadpaint01Lead is a heavy metal that exists naturally in the earth but that is not known to be safe in the body at any amount. Lead poisoning causes permanent damage to the brain, nervous system, and other organs that can result in anti-social behavior, learning disabilities, seizures, dementia, and even death.

Children six years old and under suffer the most damage from lead-poisoning because of their rapidly developing brains and bodies. Of these, children three years and under and unborn children are most vulnerable. According to Biological Properties of Lead (Toxipedia), children are at a greater risk of lead poisoning than adults because they are much smaller than adults and will receive a larger dose given the same level of exposure. They also absorb lead at a higher rate than adults, 50% or more, depending on nutrition.

Despite having been banned from house paint in 1978, the most common source of lead in the U.S. is still from lead-based paint. Lead paint chips and lead dust are still found in many old homes and in the soil. Lead from paint is released into the air when painted surfaces undergo friction, such as from scraping or even from opening and closing windows and doors. This friction releases lead dust we can breathe in or that settles onto the surfaces we touch. Young children who play on the floor and put their hands and toys into their mouths can be poisoned this way.

leadedgassignLead particles released into the outside air fall to the ground and contaminate soil. Sources of lead-emissions include industrial pollution and the burning of leaded gasoline. Even though leaded gasoline has not been used in highway vehicles in the U.S. since 1991, the lead particles from car-exhaust are still present in the ground. Soil and groundwater can also be contaminated by lead that leaches from the construction debris, car batteries, and other refuse in landfills.

Thousands of products that we use every day contain lead. In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act lowered the amount of lead allowed in many children’s products, including clothing and the paint used in toys. Many countries do not sufficiently restrict the use of lead, and imported items can contain harmful amounts.

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