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Roger Weller, geology instructor
Lead vs. Health
by Kaleb Solberg
Lead a Leadless Life
What is Lead?
Melting point: 621.5°F (327.5°C)
Atomic number 82
Atomic mass: 207.2 u ± 0.1 u
Electron configuration: [Xe] 4f145d106s26p2
Lead is a soft (easy to work), dull, a silvery-grey metal found naturally (not human-made) found in small amounts in the earth's crust. Lead does not conduct electricity and is an effective shield against radiation. Lead can be either inorganic or organic. Inorganic lead is lead found in old paint. While it can have some beneficial uses, recently we have discovered that lead can be very harmful to developing children or fetuses.
There is two types of lead, organic and inorganic lead.
We used organic lead in leaded gasoline before we burned it. Organic lead
can be more toxic than inorganic lead due to the ability of the body to absorb
organic lead. Inorganic lead is lead found in old paint, soil, and other
various product and is harder for the body to absorb but still just as
Where is Lead Found?
Lead is a naturally occurring metal inside of the earth’s
crust. However, due to human use and involvement, lead has now contaminated the
air, soil, water, and is even located in some homes. Much of human exposure to
lead derives from the use of fossil fuels such as leaded gasoline, some types of
industrial facilities, and past use of lead-based paint in homes.
Humans have historically used lead as pipelining, pewter, and
paint due to its ability to be easily worked and its high corrosion-resistance.
Also, we haves used lead in glazes for pottery, insecticides, and some hair
dyes. Lead is still being used today for car batteries, pigments, ammunition,
cable sheathing, lifting weights, weight belts, crystal glass, and some forms of
How does Lead get Into the Body?
The two main routes lead enters the body is either through
digestion or inhalation. For example, lead can get into an individual’s body
through digestion when that individual unknowingly eats anything that dusted in
lead residue. Also, one can digest lead through drinking water contaminated from
plumbing laced with lead. One may also inhale lead, however rather uncommon now
except for occupationally, with the use of leaded fossil fuels.
Effects of Lead Exposure
Overexposure to lead can cause problems with the central nervous system, reproductive system, hematological system, and the kidneys. Most symptoms of lead exposure will go unnoticed due to nonspecific symptoms, such as stomach pain, headaches, anxiety, irritability, and poor appetite. Most symptoms can be easily mistaken and overlooked as simple cold or flu symptoms. Some other recorded effects are:
Decrease in hearing
Low blood levels
Lower IQ scores
Decreased academic achievement
Increase in both behavioral and attention-related behaviors
Decreased kidney function
Degenerative disorder of the CNS
Reduced fetal growth
Chronic exposure in adults:
Increased blood pressure
Muscle and joint pain
Memory or concentration problems
Who is at Risk?
Children and women who are pregnant are more at risk of lead
poisoning. Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their
growing bodies will absorb it more readily than adults, and lead will damage the
brains and nervous systems of developing humans. Babies are also highly
susceptible to lead poisoning due to their experimental and curious nature.
Babies are more likely to grab objects and put them into their mouths that may
have lead dust on them. This was a greater concern when lead was still
used as paint chips that could be easily accessed by infants and had a sweetish
taste to it.
Adults who work in places known to have high exposure to
lead, such as mining, ironwork or welding, construction, renovation and
remodeling activities, smelters, firing ranges, manufacturing, and disposal of
car batteries, automobile radiator repair, metal shop work, and manufacturing of
pottery or stained glass.
Steps to Prevent Lead Exposure
First and foremost be knowledgeable about any and all
purchases you may be making. With your house, ensure that they did not use any
lead based paints or pipeline systems. If they did, make sure to have a
professional examine and replace all existing lead-based products in your
household. Also, ensure that pottery and dishware are devoid of lead. Monitor
any recalls on toys and other products that your children may come in contact.
Finally, any individual who is exposed to lead at a workplace should change out
of clothes before entering the household.
Some medications exist to help remove some lead from the
body. However, no medical care is recommended for children with lower blood lead
levels. Medications such as succimer have been known to reduce blood lead levels
in children; it can not reverse adverse impacts on IQ performances.