What is Lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring trace element found in the earth’s crust.
Lead can be found in many parts of our environment – the air, soil, water, and even inside our homes.
While it has some uses, at unsafe levels it can be toxic to humans, causing numerous health effects.
Lead can be emitted into the environment from industrial sources and contaminated sites, and these activities have resulted in hazardous lead levels in the environment. This is especially true near mining and smelting sites.
Lead is still commonly found in some paints, children’s toys, soil, dust, certain cosmetics, candles, and deteriorating water pipes.
At high level exposure, lead poisoning can lead to seizures, vomiting, memory loss, and even death.
The contribution of lead toxicity to children’s IQ, ADHD, behavioural problems, and physical health is of great concern.
Who’s at risk?
Children under the age of 6 are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects from lead, and exposure can affect a child’s mental and physical development.
Lead is dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead compared to adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed because they often put their hands and other objects in their mouths.
Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may inhale lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil. They may be exposed through playing with very old toys coated in lead paint.
Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may breathe in lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating. Renovations or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in old homes (built before 1970) is also risky. People who work in mining will be exposed to lead.
A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to the developing baby.
What are the Health Effects of Lead?
Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body, and in children it can cause:
- Behaviour and learning problems
- Lower IQ and Hyperactivity
- Slowed growth
- Hearing Problems
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium.
During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother’s bones along with calcium and can pass from the mother exposing the fetus or the breastfeeding infant to lead.
This can result in serious effects to the developing fetus and infant:
- Causing the baby to be born premature or too small;
- Harming the baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system;
- Increasing the likelihood of learning or behavioural problems
- Putting the mother at risk of miscarriage.
What can you do to lower your chances of Lead Exposure?
- Frequently wash children’s hands, bottles and toys. Teach children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors.
- Make sure your pets are kept clean and not a source of soil or dust in the home.
- Minimise lead dust in the home by mopping floors and stairs. Clean your window sills to reduce dust.
- Keep an eye on recalls of imported toys which have been found to contain lead.
- Use only cold filtered water to prepare food and drinks (not from the hot tap).
- If you drink rainwater, test it. Make sure lead from the roof is not ending up in your water.
- House renovation: take care if renovating a house built before 1970, as the paint that you are exposing will contain lead.
- Resist the urge to nest and redecorate when pregnant, to make sure you aren’t getting exposed to lead dust from paint.
- Old paint: take a look in grandparents homes or at daycare. Ensure your child does not have access to peeling or deteriorating paint. Check all chewable surfaces that could be painted with lead based paint, such as old cots or railings.
- Soil and dirt: get your garden soil tested to see if it contains high levels of lead. If it does, keep your child away from bare dirt, and only grow veggies in raised garden beds.
Diverse whole foods diet:
- A healthy and varied diet can prevent potential lead exposure as children with nutrient deficiencies in iron, calcium, and vitamin C are more susceptible to harm from lead exposure.
- Iron-sufficient diets discourage the absorption of lead, and calcium competes with lead to inhibit its absorption. Vitamin C may also increase lead excretion by the kidneys.
What do I do if I think my child or I have been exposed to lead?
A hair tissue mineral analysis is a non-invasive way to determine if your child has higher than normal levels of lead in their body.
If you are worried your child has had an acute exposure to lead / lead poisoning, see your doctor.
An association between lead, behavioural problems and ADHD has been established in numerous studies, confirming that even low levels of lead raise the risk.
While lead is not the only cause of ADHD, it appears to be a contributor, even at current typical exposure levels.
Some children may be more susceptible because of genotype, poor diet, or prior/concurrent adversity.
If you want some advice on your child’s behavioural issues, or you want to get them tested for lead, make an appointment with me using this link.