Lead Poisoning in Children
Lead poisoning is a silent killer because it affects the children slowly and gradually showing very subtle symptoms. Lead is a toxic metal and has caused extensive environmental contamination and health problems especially in children. According to World health Organization, lead exposure estimated to be 0.6% of global burden of disease and childhood exposure is estimated to contribute to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities each year.
Lead is a heavy, ductile, soft gray solid metallic element, which does not rust or corrode, binds easily with other metal. In environment, lead is present everywhere - in soil, water, air and food. Normally lead has no essential role to play in human body.
Sources of Lead
Lead and lead compounds have been used in wide variety of products like paint, toys, pipes, batteries, cosmetics, glass TV tubes, jar lids, and even some utensils. The single largest use of lead is in lead batteries storage. Lead enters in our body through air, water, food and soil. Drinking water is an important source of lead entrance in our body. Pipes, faucets in kitchen or bathroom sinks, are made of lead. The leakage of lead is very high in tap water. In India, lead poisoning is very common through drinking water. There is sharp rising of lead poisoning cases not only in children but also in adults in India.
Discovery of Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning in children was recognized a century ago. The first report of childhood lead poisoning in Australia, in 1892, was greeted with disbelief and there was considerable doubt that lead can cause poisoning. However with further investigation the picture of lead poisoning came into existence. Hence in 1920 lead was banned in Australia for household use.
Health Effect of Lead toxicity in children
Lead is a potent toxin and can damage in number of ways. Every small exposure to lead can cause harm and hence there is no threshold of lead levels in blood. However, blood lead level above 10 microgram /dL is considered as toxic.
Children are more sensitive to lead as their intestines absorb lead more quickly than adults; and their nervous system is more vulnerable to lead than adults. The two signs os lead poisoning greatly helps to determine the lead in the tissues. Firstly blue line on the gums and secondly presence of lead in urine.
- Acute lead poisoning either by inhalation or ingestion of lead causes abdominal colic, anemia, convulsion, acute encephalopathy with coma and even death.
- Chronic or subclinical lead toxicity which is due to low dose continuous exposure to lead can affect kidney functions, reproductive functions and central nervous system. Child may suffer from low IQ level, diminished intelligence, slow reaction time, shorter attention time and hyperactivity in children.
- High exposure of lead during pregnancy can lead to abortion, still births, congenital defects and malformation of babies are very likely.
Management of Lead Poisoning
Due to persistent rise in lead poisoning cases it is very important to curb this poisoning. First the most important thing is to create awareness about the lead poisoning because many Indians are not aware about it. And secondly necessary action to prevent the further absorption of lead in the body by removing the lead from the sources.
- Removal of lead based paint from the houses, removal of lead painted toys and complete avoidance of using canned food items would help to reduce the lead ingestion to some extend.
- Cheaper plastic or colorful toys are made of lead paints. So purchasing them. Buy only lead free toys.
- As drinking tap water is more likely to cause lead ingestion, it is important to prevent lead in water. Most of the pipelines are made of lead which cannot be changed. But we can still prevent ingestion of lead. Remember boiling water would only help to kill bacteria but would not help to reduce the lead toxicity. However filtration of water would be helpful to some extent. Additionally, if the tap water is not used for more that 6 hours, then let the tap water run for 2 mins before drinking it. Also do not drink hot or warm tap water because warmer the tap water is more likely to have lead in it.
- If you feel your child is deteriorating in studies and intellectually, unable to concentrate in the studies, failing the exams, or getting very bad grades which was not the case before then get his /her blood lead levels checked. He /she may be suffering from lead poisoning.
- If either of child parents are working in contact with lead or in related industry must be very cautions. Such workers and their families are potential to suffer from lead poisoning. Hence it is strongly recommended to minimize the lead exposure by maintaining the good work practice. These workers can protect their children from lead contamination by washing taking shower or at least washing their exposed body parts before leaving the work area, changing the clothes before leaving the work premises, and many more. These practices would help to prevent the spread of lead to the family members.
Lead poisoning is a serious issue in India and other part of the world. Serious steps to create awareness is necessary. Every parents, adolescents, teachers, youngsters need to be educated. Some researchers and institutions are planning for the programs that would educate the people.
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