Lead is a neurotoxic metallic element that can be absorbed by the body, primarily through the lungs and stomach. Lead poisoning occurs when too much lead accumulates in the body. Generally, lead poisoning occurs slowly, resulting from the gradual accumulation of lead in bone and tissue after repeated exposure. However, it is important to note that young children absorb 50% of a lead ingestion while adults absorb only 10%.
Left untreated, lead poisoning can damage many internal organs, including the kidney, nervous system, and brain. Because of the possibility of permanent impairment, lead poisoning is particularly dangerous during the critical development periods of infants and young children under the age of 7 years.
People at Risk
It is commonly believed that lead poisoning affects only the urban poor. While exposure risk is higher in deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods, this disease occurs in all social and economic groups. Middle-class children can become exposed to lead dust during renovations of older homes.
In any case, children under the age of 3 are especially at risk because they crawl or play at ground level. They also put everything into their mouths and their small bodies absorb and accumulate toxic lead amounts more quickly than adults.
"I've heard that eating a single paint chip causes lead poisoning."
False: Lead poisoning develops after repeated exposures to substances containing small amounts of lead, such as paint chips, dust, soil, or eating from lead-glazed dishes. Since 1977, paints produced in the United States do not contain lead.
"Doesn't eating pencil lead cause lead poisoning?"
False: Pencil "lead" is now made of graphite, which contains no lead.