Health Effects of Lead

The symptoms of lead poisoning present themselves differently in children and adults. In children, the most common symptoms of lead poisoning are:

  • Developmental delay
  • Learning difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue
  • Pica (eating things that are not
  • food)

Lead poisoning in adults, while less common than in children, can still be extremely dangerous. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Hypertension
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Reproductive issues
  • Neuropathy
  • Seizures
  • Hearing loss
  • Impaired concentration

Pregnant women should also take care to avoid exposure to lead, as it is toxic to fetuses, and can lead to health complications in newborns, like premature birth, and low birth weight.

Occupational lead exposure can be an issue as well, if workers are not properly monitored. Lead is an important metal in industry, for example, within metalworking and acid battery recycling. Construction workers often come into contact with lead during demolitions and abatements, and shipyards are also common workplaces for lead exposure. According to OSHA, around 804,000 general industry workers and 838,000 construction workers are potentially exposed to lead. Fortunately, employers are mandated to protect their workers from inorganic lead exposure.

What is not regulated, however, is the number of children being exposed to lead daily because their families cannot afford to pay for lead abatement. Many children of Flint are still not able to drink clean water because the lead pipes bringing it to their houses have not yet been replaced. Little government assistance was provided, until recently, in 2017, when the water was deemed “acceptable” again. It is estimated that the city will not be completely free of lead pipes until 2020.

While lead was found in common household items in the past, it is now understood to be a toxic metal that can cause illness in people of all ages, but most frequently, in infants and children. Lead paint covers the walls of older homes all over the country. It is possible that there are other cities across the country with lead pipes, and that a similar situation to the Flint water crisis could arise again if proper inspections are not conducted.

While protections exist for construction and industry workers, citizens themselves are not protected from lead exposure, if they cannot afford to get it removed professionally. The only option that will protect all citizens from lead exposure is legislation banning the sale and/or lease of houses and apartments that contain any lead fixtures.