Lead is the most important toxic heavy metal in the environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children of 4 million households in the United States are exposed to high levels of lead. Usually, human exposure to lead happens in lead-related occupations from gasoline, pottery, boat building, lead-based painting, battery recycling, metal recycling and printing of books, to name a few. Exposure occurs through various routes like inhalation, ingestion or skin contact.
Lead is highly poisonous and may affect almost every organ in the body. But of all the organs, both in children and adults, the nervous system is the more exposed to lead toxicity. Children up to the age of six are, however, especially, vulnerable to lead poisoning because of their fast rate of growth and development. Long-term exposure can lead to problems with mental and physical development, and in severe cases can result in coma or death.
The following are the most common symptoms seen in children with lead poisoning.
1. Developmental delay
In a child developing brain, lead interferes with the synthesis of neurochemicals, including the neurotransmitters that make possible the crosstalk between neuronal cells. Lead reduces the number of neuronal cells too. Therefore, infants exposed to lead may suffer neurological impairments and exhibit delays in sitting-up, crawling, walking, and talking. Children who have been exposed to lead also show lower overall IQ scores than children who were not. They are also shorter on average and weigh less than non-exposed children.
Babies are most vulnerable to lead poisoning because they spend a lot of time on the floor, around dust which may be contaminated by lead. Infants constantly put items in their mouths, which may contain traces of lead, or may pick up some contaminated dust from the flood. Parents should avoid giving their children toys or games which were painted before 1976 in the United States, as well as toys which were painted outside of the US unless they are certified, as they may contain lead.