Watch out for lead! By: Nayab Abeer & Nusaiba Khubaib

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Lead is a very important and common contaminant in environment and due to its persistent nature poses serious threats to health. Even a small concentration is considered to be toxic and is a threat for human health when its quantity in soil exceeds 400-500mg/kg (US-EPA). Lead is second on the list of the “Top Twenty Hazardous Substances from the 2003 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Priority List of Hazardous Substances.
An individual can be exposed to lead from many sources. Anthropogenic sources of lead in the environment include automobile exhaust, mining and smelting of lead ores, burning of coal, effluents from storage battery industries, metal plating/finishing operations, additives in paints and gasoline and use of fertilizers and pesticides is also an important source of lead. Sources through which humans are usually exposed to lead include household dust, lead based paints used in homes particularly in toys and furniture, leaching of lead into tap water from lead pipes and by occupational exposure (Henry 2006)
The possible route of entry for lead into human body includes, inhalation of air contaminated with lead, intake of contaminated food and water or absorption through skin via use of products that contain high amount of lead such as lipsticks and other cosmetic products. Once it enters into the body it can cause various effects which can be acute or chronic in nature. The acute effects include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle pain and weakness. Whereas chronic effects includes psychological disorders, lack of sleep, memory loss, numbness, joint pain, reproductive disorders, nervous system damage, kidney and cardiovascular damage. (United States Environmental Protection Agency)
New born and children under the age of 6 are most susceptible to lead poisoning as their bodies are in the course of growth and development hence lead is absorbed quickly, also children crawl on floors contaminated with dust and almost try to ingest anything they find thus their contact to lead is higher than adults. Not only newborns but fetus is also threatened by lead contamination (mayoclinic.org)
Lead toxicity is a global problem. Once it enters the environment, it can stay there for a long period of time. For example a home which was exposed to lead due to some painting or renovation process may cause toxicity in a child many years later.
In order to protect yourself and your family it is important to understand the health effects of lead and adopting some preventive measures to reduce the exposure. Some of the preventive measures that can be opted includes: talking to local health department to test paint and dust from your home, making sure the toddlers do not have excess to chewable things painted with lead based paints, develop the habit of washing hands before eating plus do not forget to wash children’s hands and toys, mop the floor and clean the windows regularly to remove dust containing lead, take off shoes before you enter the house and don’t allow children to play in bare soil, only allow them to play in sandboxes which should be covered after use to protect them from contamination from various sources; air, cat and other animal litter etc. (center for disease control and prevention, America)
Government should also play its role in this regard by setting national policy; providing funding and leadership; building capacity and infrastructure and enforcing rules and regulations to control lead poisoning. Government may take the help of local NGOs as well to meet international standards.