Heavy Metals: Lead:
Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal that is found in many products around the world, including everyday products in our homes and workplaces. Exposure to lead damages our health and specifically affects children's brains. Even small amounts of lead can damage a child's development, causing learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
The World Health Organization states that: 'Too much lead can damage the nervous and reproductive systems and the kidneys, and can cause high blood pressure and anemia. Lead accumulates in the bones and lead poisoning may be diagnosed from a blue line around the gums. Lead is especially harmful to the developing brains of fetuses and young children and to pregnant women. Lead interferes with the metabolism of calcium and Vitamin D. High blood lead levels in children can cause consequences which may be irreversible including learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and mental retardation. At very high levels, lead can cause convulsions, coma and death.'
Health Impacts of Lead:
Lead is a well-known neurotoxic metal that impairs the neurological development of children. Children below 6 years of age are the most susceptible to lead exposure, even at low levels of exposure, and pregnant women are the second most vulnerable group.
Once lead is absorbed it is rapidly taken up by blood and soft tissue, followed by a slower redistribution to bone. The lead that has accumulated in a mother's bones is mobilised during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Lead can then cross the placenta and reach the developing foetus. Lead is also found in breast milk. The lead that accumulates in an individual's bones serves as a source of lead that can be released slowly over many years, even after the exposure has stopped.
Lead exposure affects a child's intellectual development1. Even low levels of lead, that is, below the current "acceptable" level of 10 micrograms per deciliter, have been linked with an average loss of 7.4 IQ points compared with pre-school children whose lifetime average blood lead concentrations remained at 1 microgram per deciliter. Exposure to lead in utero is also thought to be a contributing factor of schizophrenia2.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers any lead concentrations in blood equal to or higher than 10 �g/dl as elevated. They found that there may actually be no safe level. Low-level long term lead exposure can also lead to health related problems such as renal dysfunction or delayed puberty in girls.
Childhood lead exposure has also been linked with hearing loss, poor reading, writing and maths ability, reduced growth, balance and 'spatial sense' problems and with osteoporosis later in life3.
1Needleman, Herbert L; Shell, Alan; Bellinger, David; Leviton, Alan; & Allred, Elizabeth N, 'The Long-Term Effects Of Exposure To Low Doses Of Lead In Childhood - An 11-Year Follow-Up Report', The New England Journal Of Medicine Vol 322 No 2 (1989); H. L. Needleman, J. A. Riess, M. J. Tobin, G. E. Biesecker and J. B. Greenhouse, 'Bone lead levels and delinquent behavior', JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] Vol. 275 No. 5, February 7, 1996.
2MGA Opler, AS Brown, J Graziano, M Desai, W Zheng, C Schaefer, P Factor-Litvak, & ES Susser, 'Prenatal Lead Exposure, delta-Aminolevulinic Acid, and Schizophrenia', Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 112 No 5 April 2004
3James R. Campbell, Randy N. Rosier, Leonore Novotny and J. Edward Puzas, 'The Association between Environmental Lead Exposure and Bone Density in Children', Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 112, Number 11, August 2004.
How Are We Exposed to Lead?:
Many people are exposed to lead through products that contain lead such as paints, jewellery, toys, lead-containing ceramics, lead wicked candles, some PVC plastics and lead in plumbing and solders. For many, the most serious exposures result from lead contaminated house and roof dust, plus motor vehicle exhaust where leaded petrol is still used. Very small children are especially at risk to exposure through the ingestion of paint chips from lead-based paint.
Emissions of lead also come from industrial sources such as smelters and lead manufacturing and recycling industries, as well as waste sites and contaminated landfills. These emissions often result in lead contaminating soil and water.
Global Sampling Project:
IPEN is working with many organisations around the world to address lead exposure for people and the environment. Environment, health and public interest groups such as non governmental organisations (NGOs) played a vital role in the eradication of lead from petrol in the majority of countries around the world. Now they are turning their attention to another major cause of exposure, lead in paint.
In 2008 IPEN partnered with the Indian organisation Toxics Link (link http://www.toxicslink.org), to conduct global sampling of lead in paint with organisations in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Ten countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America were involved. The study showed that, with a few exceptions, all plastic paint samples had low lead concentrations, and the majority of enamel paint samples had lead concentrations higher than regulatory levels of 90ppm (US, China) or 600ppm (Singapore). Lead concentrations in paints ranged from 0.6 ppm to 505,716 ppm. This study launched IPEN's lead campaign, 'Children's health first: Eliminate lead paint'.
For more information see:
Factsheets and Online Resources:
Occupational Knowledge International
OK International is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to improving public health by reducing exposures to industrial pollutants. OKI provides a wide rage of factsheets, informational resources and links related to lead.
They include Adobe .pdf fact sheets:
Childhood Lead Exposures:
Steps to Protect your Child from Lead [Chinese]
Occupational Lead Exposure:
Preventing Lead Exposure at Work [Tamil]
Medical Guidelines for Lead Exposure [English]
The Lead Group Inc.
The Lead Education and Abatement Design Group (LEAD) is a not-for-profit community organisation which develops and provides information and referrals on lead poisoning and lead contamination prevention and management The Lead Group Inc.
Global Lead Advice & Support Service (GLASS) run by The LEAD Group Inc. has produced over 50 fact sheets on recognising and managing lead Global Lead Advice & Support Service (GLASS)
Fact sheets include:
Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely [English]
Lead In Ceiling Dust [English]
Healthy Environments for Children Alliance (HECA)
HECA is an initiative of the World Health Organisation.
HECA Lead Fact Sheet
World Health Organization
WHO Water-related Diseases, Lead poisoning Fact Sheet
Lead poisoning Fact Sheet
Center for Environmental Health (CEH)
The Center for Environmental Health protects people from toxic chemicals and promotes business products and practices that are safe for public health and the environment.
Their publications are available at http://www.ceh.org and include
Lead in Handbags
Lead in Jewelry
Lead in Artificial Turf
Lead in Wheel Weights
Lead in Poker Chips
Lead in Dog Accessories
Lead in Diaper Bags
Lead in Hannah Montana Products
Babies, Bibs, and Lead
Lead in Wheel Balancing Weights