Lead Poisoning



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Lead Poisoning

Lead is a toxic metal that naturally occurs from earth’s crust. It is the environmental agent that causes lead poisoning in human beings. The widespread use of lead has caused extensive human exposure, environmental contamination and public health issues all over the world. Lead is mostly used in industrial processes, aviation fuel, paint, and vehicle fuels. The substance is also used in products such as cosmetics, toys, jewellery, ammunition, stained glass, solder, pigments, lead crystal glassware, and ceramic glazes. In some parts of the world, water contains lead if it is delivered using lead pipes or if the pipes are joined using lead solder.

Lead exposure is an important concern in public health. Young children are vulnerable to lead as it affects their brain development as well as their nervous system. Lead is one cause of high mortality and morbidity rates among children (Landrigan et al., 2002). Healthy people 2020 lists reduction of lead exposures among children as one of United States’ national objective. Between 2005 and 2008, blood lead levels (BLLs) in children aged 1 to 5 years was 1.5µg/dl. The nation is expected to reduce this BLL by 10 percent.

According to Friis and Sellers (2014), lead is widely associated with adverse effects on the central nervous system. Such effects include deficits among children, intellectual impairment, kidney disease and hypertension among the adults. The author adds that blood lead levels (BLLs) that are very high, that is, greater than 70µg/dl often cause acute effects such as coma, seizure and death. Low levels of lead exposure are also harmful. The lowest threshold which causes adverse effects is not known. Friis and Sellers (2014) point out that young children and fetuses are among the group of population that is at the risk of the harmful effects that result from lead exposure. High levels of lead in pregnant women leads to premature births, stillbirths, low birth weights, minor malformations or even miscarriages.

Research carried out between 1900 and 1920 indicates that the amount of lead which leached into water from service pipes increased infant mortality rates. Clay, Troesken and Haines (2014) argue that lead led water pH to increase to 7.3 (50th percentile) from 6.675 (25th percentile) in cities with lead-only pipes. This was an increase of infant mortality from 7% to 33%. Lead poisoning is a major cause of health disparities in the population. According to Eisenberg et al. (2011), children in Africa and from various world regions are at the highest risk than children within United States. This is because children overseas are more exposed to lead. 

Studies indicate that lead poisoning costs the society in large way. In a certain project, where lead-based paint was uncontrollably removed, soil lead levels increased from 3,900 ppm in a children’s play area to 130,000 ppm. According to Jacobs, Mielke and Pavur (2003), the decontamination costs that were endured in this area were more than $195,000. The author argues that this cost would have been reduced greatly if lead-safe practices were incorporated in the project. According to the research done by Eisenberg et al. (2011), using the environmentally attributable fraction (EAF) model, lead poisoning was judged to 100% EAF while asthma was at 30%, cancer at 5% and 10% for neurobehavioral disorders. According to the author, lead poisoning caused the highest costs when compared with the other conditions. Lead poisoning costs were $43.4 billion; $10.3 billion for childhood cancer; $9.2 billion for neurobehavioral disorder; and $ 2.0 billion for asthma. 


Clay, K., Troesken, W., & Haines, M. (2014). LEAD AND MORTALITY. Review Of Economics & Statistics, 96(3), 458-470. doi: 10.1162/REST_a_00396

Eisenberg, K. W., van Wijngaarden, E., Fisher, S. G., Korfmacher, K. S., Campbell, J. R., Fernandez, I. D., & … Geltman, P. L. (2011). Blood Lead Levels of Refugee Children Resettled in Massachusetts, 2000 to 2007. American Journal of Public Health, 101(1), 48-54. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.184408 

Friis, R. H., & Sellers, T. A. (2014). Epidemiology for public health practice (5th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett 

Jacobs, D. E., Mielke, H., & Pavur, N. (2003). The High Cost of Improper Removal of Lead-Based Paint from Housing: A Case Report. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111(2), 185-186.

Landrigan, P. J., Schechter, C. B., Lipton, J. M., Fahs, M. C., & Schwartz, J. (2002). Environmental Pollutants and Disease in American Children: Estimates of Morbidity, Mortality, and Costs for Lead Poisoning, Asthma, Cancer, and Developmental Disabilities. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(7), 721.

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