The subject of lead toxicity came up when I switched on the news channel a few days ago. I only caught the last words of it – that as a result of a scientific research, removing lead from petrol significantly reduced crime in several USA cities (where the research was conducted).
Since the subject of heavy metal toxicity was something I had always been interested in due to my long-term work with clays and magnesium salts, I decided to do some more research into lead toxicity, especially in children and teenagers, since their developing body – especially the brain – gets affected most by this toxic element. Following are the results of my own research.
“Lead poisoning is one of the most common and best-recognized childhood diseases of toxic environmental origin. Children around the world today are at risk of exposure to lead from multiple sources. Lead poisoning accounts for about 0.6% of the global burden of disease” (WHO, 2009).
Lead is especially dangerous for children, due to its ability to get deposited in the bones, brain and nerve cells, and affect the growing organism in this way, causing irrevocable damage.
Facts About Lead
As an element, lead has an atomic number 82, and weight 207.2. It is a grey metal, soft and pliable, and heavy. It has a low melting point of 327.6 degrees C.
Naturally occurring lead. Lead is encountered naturally in the earth crust, as lead sulphide, lead sulphate, lead carbonate, lead chloroacetate, and lead chlorophosphate.
Inorganic lead – found in old paint, dust, consumer products, plumbing, etc. It can have different colours depending on the content of the compound. Lead carbonate has a white colour. Lead chromate is of yellow colour. Lead tetraoxide is of red colour.
Organic lead – extremely dangerous, since they are absorbed through the skin and respiratory system, and affect the brain and Central Nervous System. Tetraethyl lead is found in petrol (gasoline).
How Does Lead Get into Our Body?
Used as it is, in drain pipes, paint, and as a soldering material for decades. The homes which were built before 1940 have a lot of lead contained in painted surfaces which leads to chronic exposure to the paint which has been weathered and is flaking and turning into dust.
About 2.5 million tons of lead are being produced every year all over the world. Car batteries use most of it. The rest goes on plumbing materials, and military installations, as well as paint, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, lead pencils, production of crystal glass, and pesticides. This is for lead being used as the metal.
Plus, until recently lead was used in petrol in the developed world and is still being used in petrol and other fuel in the developing world.
“The major sources of children’s exposure to lead are lead added to petrol lead from an active industry, such as mining (especially in soils), lead-based paints and pigments, lead solder in food cans, ceramic glazes, drinking-water systems with lead solder and lead pipes, lead in products, such as herbal and traditional medicines, folk remedies, cosmetics and toys, lead released by incineration of lead-containing waste, lead in electronic waste (e-waste), lead in the food chain, via contaminated soil, lead contamination as a legacy of historical contamination from former industrial sites.”“Childhood Lead Poisoning”, World Health Organisation.
Sources of Lead Toxicity in Children
- Water going through corrosive lead pipes
- Leaded paint (a big problem especially in the USA)
- Leaded gasoline (petrol)
- Burning of waste
- Lead in cosmetic products
- Contaminated soil
- Cans, ceramics, leaded glass
- Foods coming from lead-contaminated soils
- Some traditional medicines
“Socioeconomic factors are important predictors of exposure to lead. Poor families are more likely to live near industrial plants that handle lead, such as battery recyclers or smelters. Also, they are more likely to dwell on polluted lands, to work in polluting industries, or to live in older housing with lead-based paint. Finally, poor children are more likely to have iron or calcium deficient diets, and as a result they may absorb lead more efficiently.
Culture and ethnicity are strongly related to such risk factors for exposure to lead as the use of traditional cosmetics, herbal medicine products and pica during pregnancy. These exposures are, however, not limited to their countries of origin, as global migration and global markets increase and as the popularity of complementary and alternative medicine grows in middle- and high-income societies.” “Childhood Lead Poisoning”, World Health Organisation.
What Are the Symptoms?
Acute exposure to lead is normally a result of exposure at a workplace, especially at production plants where lead is being used or recycled.
Symptoms of acute exposure include
- Pain in the abdomen
- Renal failure
- Lloss of sleep
- Poor appetite
- Joint pain and inflammation
Chronic exposure to lead is much more dangerous, and cal lead to:
- Birth defects
- Mental health problems
- Slow development
- Weight loss
- Shaky hands
- Muscular weakness
- Immune system disruption
- An increased chances of dementia later in life
- Cardio-vascular problems (hypertension, stroke)
- Renal problem
- Reproductive disorders.
How Does It Affect Children?
“Children are particularly sensitive to lead (absorbing as much as 50% of the ingested dose) and are prone to ingesting lead because they chew on painted surfaces and eat products not intended for human consumption (e.g., hobby paints, cosmetics, hair colorings with lead-based pigments, and even playground dirt). In addition to the symptoms found in acute lead exposure, symptoms of chronic lead exposure could be allergies, arthritis, autism, colic, hyperactivity, mood swings, nausea, numbness, lack of concentration, seizures, and weight loss.” “Childhood Lead Poisoning”, World Health Organisation.
Studies have suggested that chronic exposure to lead can result in damage to areas of the brain responsible for regulating one’s impulses and judgment, as well as controlling behaviour. “One recent paper looked at six US cities that had good data for crime and lead pollution levels going back to the 1950s, and found a correlation each time. Howard Mielke, of Tulane University, said he had studied concentrations of lead at a neighbourhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with local police. He told the blogger: “When they overlay them with crime maps, they realise they match up.”Lead spewed from car exhaust pipes had apparently continued to cause a pollution problem in places where it had settled in soil.” The Telegraph
Other studies involved researching academic achievement in schools in areas exposed to high levels of atmospheric lead and found the same correlation.
Why Are Children at Increased Exposure to Lead?
- They are much more curious and explore things using their mouth.
- They can be exposed to it during pregnancy.
- They tissues are a lot more absorbent.
- They spend more time in the same environment, and if the environment is contaminated, it makes them more vulnerable.
- They are much more curious.
- They play with toys (some of which can contain lead).
What Can Be Done to Help Minimize Lead Toxicity in Children?
Prevention is the best method of minimizing such exposure. Of course, it can be challenging in situations where certain factors are present and are difficult or impossible to control. However, in developed countries, it is possible to prevent, by ensuring that a suspected unsafe environment gets treated appropriately before a little child is brought into it. Once the symptoms appear, a child needs to be tested to exclude lead or any other form of toxicity.
You can help prevent it by reading labels, watching over your child and what they put in their mouth, making sure that is used at home is new and is not flaking. Also, read all you can about lead toxicity so that you can recognise its symptoms if it happens.
What Are The Treatments?
Unfortunately, harmful effects of lead toxicity are irreversible. However, it is possible to flush some lead out of the body, minimising the destruction it causes. Normally, in a clinic environment, lead toxicity would be determined by a blood test. More than 10mcg/dl of lead in child’s blood would indicate a sign of toxicity.
Where signs of lead toxicity have been confirmed, a patient would normally be treated with chelation therapy – a series of injections and administration of binding agents orally, to help remove lead from the body. In addition, acute toxicity would require flushing the stomach, using charcoal, enemas, IV fluids, dialysis, and drugs.
There are natural detoxification procedures in addition to medical ones. However, where it involves children, the first and possibly only way to deal with it would be medical. If your child shows any of the above symptoms, make sure that he/she gets checked and treated as soon as possible.
To help promote a detoxification process at home, magnesium chloride and clay baths would be of great benefit.
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