Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in ore with silver, zinc, and copper and is extracted together with these metals, but native lead is rare in nature. This bluish-white lustrous metal is resistant to corrosion, malleable, ductile but is soft and a poor conductor of electricity. These qualities have made lead useful since the Roman Empire era as water pipes. Its current uses are in lead-acid car batteries, as a component of glass in computer and television screens, as weight in sports equipment, and as a container of corrosive liquids. It is also used in some solders and some grades of petrol (gasoline).
However, as useful as this element may seem, lead is also a dangerous and toxic metal. It has caused various health issues that may date back to its first widespread use. Even now, lead poisoning and toxicity are still significant issues that need to be addressed. Here, we’ll discuss the harmful effects of lead poisoning and how you can avoid it.
Lead Causes Neurological Damage in Children
Children are particularly vulnerable to the toxicity and harmful effects of lead. Compared to adults, children absorb lead 4-5 times more from a given source. Lead can enter the human body through the intake of food, water, and air. Lead is a cumulative toxicant, meaning its concentration increases after regular and repeated ingestion. Thus, at high levels of exposure, lead poisoning can cause convulsions, coma, or death. Low to moderate lead exposure levels in children can cause changes in cognition and behavior such as reduced attention span, increased antisocial behavior, and decreased intelligence quotient (IQ). Health symptoms include renal impairment, weakened immune system, anemia, and hypertension.
Many countries have taken steps to reduce lead contamination by lowering or eliminating lead-glazed or lead-soldered containers of food and food items and removing the lead content from gasoline and aviation fuel. Leaded paints are also being phased out due to health and environmental reasons. However, different countries have varying progress regarding programs eliminating or reducing the adverse health effects of lead.
Even in the United States, the water piping systems across the country are not fully updated, and there are still some communities that use old lead water pipes or pipes with leaded welding solder and fittings. If you live in an old house, especially one that was built earlier than 1986, there is a high chance that it may still be using lead pipes or metal pipes with lead solder or pipe fittings. The plumbing fixtures may also contain lead, which is why you need the best water filter for lead removal to safeguard yourself and your family, especially your children. Lead contaminates drinking water through the corrosion of pipes. This usually happens when the pH level of water is slightly acidic. Public water treatment facilities are applying pH-adjustment in addition to filtration measures to ensure that water from your faucet is safe to drink. As an added measure of protection, installing a water filter system at home filters out not just impurities but also heavy metal contaminants such as lead.
Lead Accumulates in Multiple Organs of the Body
When lead is ingested in the body, it is distributed to different organs, particularly the kidney, liver, bones, and brain. At low concentrations, the symptoms of lead poisoning cannot be felt or noticed immediately. As you continue to ingest lead particles into your body, they accumulate in the different organs of the body and slowly deteriorate their functions. You may notice an early onset of high blood pressure, unexplained weakness, anemia, and kidney damage.
Some mild symptoms such as constipation, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, memory loss episodes, headaches, and pain or tingling in the hands or feet may surface. However, these symptoms share the same features as other ailments, diseases, and conditions, making them easily overlooked and mistaken for a different condition. If you suspect that the symptoms you are experiencing are caused by lead exposure, you can consult your doctor and have your blood tested.
Blood testing is a reliable way of measuring and assessing human exposure to lead. When you experience a recurrence of the symptoms mentioned above, even if you feel relatively fine or healthy and recall being exposed to sources of lead exposure, have your blood tested as soon as possible. Various diseases and conditions, including lead exposure, can be detected from testing your blood samples, which is why it pays to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health. Early detection can help mitigate the physiological effects of lead poisoning, but the neurological and behavioral effects of lead poisoning are difficult to reverse or even irreversible.
Fortunately, lead exposure is preventable. There are many ways you can keep yourself, your family, and the people around you safe from the adverse health effects of lead poisoning by educating yourself and coordinating with your doctor and individuals advocating lead regulation and banning.
Lead Causes Reproductive Problems
Another significant cause of concern when it comes to lead exposure is its adverse effects on human reproduction. We mentioned earlier, the capability of lead to be transported and distributed to different organs of the body and the human reproductive system isn’t safe either. Lead poisoning deteriorates the reproductive organs and their functions, causing infertility in both males and females, miscarriages, and stillbirths.
There is also a connection between the accumulation of lead in the bone and congenital disabilities in children whose mothers have been exposed to lead. Lead in the bone is circulated in the blood during pregnancy and crosses the blood-placenta barrier, affecting the fetus. Fetal exposure to lead causes damage to the nervous system and brain of the unborn child. As no known blood lead concentration is considered ‘safe’ or does not have harmful effects, even low-level lead exposure in a developing fetus can have cognitive and behavioral outcomes.
Lead is one of the harmful heavy metals that can gravely affect our health. It’s a cumulative toxicant, and most of the time, you notice the symptoms when the level of exposure is already high. Nevertheless, lead poisoning is preventable, and there are many precautions you can take to avoid exposing yourself and your family to the harmful effects of lead. Keep yourself well-informed about lead and its sources and effects and use products that are free of lead. With these small steps, you are safeguarding your health and well-being.