The Heavy Burden Of Lead Poisoning

2011-06-17 | |
Last updated: 2011-06-17

Since ancient times, people have recognized and written about the toxicity of the metal lead to the human body. Discussions about the Fall of Rome often include references to lead poisoning from lead pipes. Although current theories suggest that ancient Rome’s high rates of lead poisoning were more likely caused by metal pots and food preservation techniques, the dangers of lead exposure are no less significant than they were 2000 years ago.

Despite readily available knowledge regarding the dangers from lead exposure, lead poisoning continues to harm the health of the population. Children face the greatest risks, but health problems from lead poisoning also affect adults. Specific groups face higher risks, but all of society actually pays the heavy burden of continued lead poisoning.

Who Is Affected By Lead Poisoning?

Anyone can suffer the effects of lead poisoning, but it mostly affects the poor. This is because those with lower income are most likely to live in older homes and apartments where lead paint was once used and not removed. The dust from lead paint accumulates over time as the home ages causing the occupants to face constant lead exposure.

People with lower incomes also face higher risks from lead poisoning because of how the body absorbs lead. Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that the risk of lead poisoning was 17% higher in children who didn’t have breakfast. This is because lead is absorbed by the body less easily when other nutrients from food are available to take its place. A lack of breakfast is usually caused by financial challenges meaning that the poor face an increased risk of lead poisoning.

Overall however, children face the most risk of lead poisoning. As of 2007, roughly 1 in 1000 US children had levels of lead in their blood higher than the minimum safe level determined by government regulators. More specifically, the same research from the University of Pennsylvania studying children in China found that boys had twice the risk of lead poisoning as girls. Children aged four or five had double the risk of lead poisoning as those 3 years of age or less. This means that young children can rapidly absorb the lead that can damage their health.

Combining the previous two groups most affected by lead poisoning, poor children are the most affected by exposure to lead. In particular, research from the University of Cincinnati confirmed that inner city children face the greatest risk of lead exposure.

While we may be tempted to think that the overall effects of lead exposure to the public are not likely that high, research from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine shows the costs to be staggering. Based on their the findings, the researchers estimated that, as of 2011, childhood lead poisoning was estimated to cost the US more than $50 billion annually in medical fees and productivity losses.

This is despite the fact that levels of lead poisoning are declining following the ban on lead in paint in the 1960’s and in gasoline in 1980’s and 1990’s.

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Category: General Health, Health Risks

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