You may have heard the saying, “Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?” used comically on television shows or in a movie. If so, have you ever wondered why they say that? The reason why is because many household paints used to contain lead and exposure to lead at a young age can cause learning delays and disorders. Although, this joke may be funny on television, lead is dangerous. Lead is a hazardous chemical element that is characterized as a soft metal. Many years ago, lead was used in many different things from paint to gasoline. However, it has only quite recently that we know and understand all the detrimental health effects associated with lead exposure.
Where is Lead found?
Lead is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust that can be found in a variety of places such as in the air, water, or soil. When in the ground, lead is usually found alongside or near silver and/or zinc. Much of the lead exposure is due to human activities such as mining and the burning of fossil fuels.
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How Can Lead Exposure Happen?
The truth is that many older homes across America still harbor the existence of lead based paint. It wasn’t until 1977 that lead based paint became a banned substance. Lead based paint can become a hazard when it cracks or crumbles off causing it to become airborne or mobile. Many people who are aware of the risks of lead based paint choose to paint over all old existing paints in an attempt to “cover-up” or “lock-in” the lead so it does not have the opportunity to peel off and cause exposure. However, despite the risk of lead in homes, there are also many occupations that expose employees to lead. Some common jobs that harbor lead risks include plumbers, miners, auto mechanics, construction workers, and plastic manufacturers among many others.
Effects of Lead Exposure on People
Lead becomes a hazard when it is either inhaled or ingested. Children are most at risk for ingestion as many children put items into their mouths that are not food. For instance, if a child puts a toy in his or her mouth and there was lead particles on it from chipped lead paint, that child would be ingesting lead. The effects of lead are scary and very serious. Lead is essentially a poison to the human body and is toxic to human organs and tissues. Lead poisoning can interfere with the functions of the heart, intestines, kidneys, reproductive organs, and nervous system thus causing headaches, confusion, seizures, coma, or even death.
If you suspect that you have been exposed to lead, it may be wise to contact your doctor and participate in a blood draw that measures the amount of lead circulating through the bloodstream. The effects of lead can be very hazardous. However, if you are working a position that puts you at risk for lead exposure make sure that you are following the proper guidelines to protect yourself as much as possible. In some situations, the use of PPE or personal protective equipment may be beneficial to minimize risk.