Lead: An Ever-Present Danger
Lead is less of an environmental hazard than it used to be, thanks to legislation passed in the 1970s banning it from gasoline and interior house paint. Unfortunately, however, lead contamination continues to be widespread. The primary source: lead-based paint found in an estimated 100 million homes and apartments built before 1978. Over time, paint peels from the wall and is ingested by small children, who will put almost anything in their mouths. Or it is released into the air as a fine dust when doors and windows are opened and shut.
Lead is also found in many of the foods we eat. Soil contamination, a result of years of auto emissions, has made lead an unwelcome part of the food chain. Many glass and ceramic items, including dishes, contain lead. Lead chromate, used as yellow and orange pigments, has even been found recently in some children's toys.
Lead toxicity affects people at all stages of life. In childhood, exposure causes irreversible damage to the central nervous system. The lead accumulates in the body, particularly in the bones. Because lead has a long half-life, increasingly higher stores of lead build up in the skeleton as a person ages, and serve as an internal source of lead exposure throughout life. During pregnancy, lead absorption is increased even more than usual, and the fetus is particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of lead. Without additional calcium, it can be passed on to the baby in greater amounts. High levels of lead in adults may also cause anemia, high blood pressure and kidney disorders.
Spring - Summer 1998 Table of Contents