Lead is a base metal that leads to toxicity when greater than normal amounts found in blood. It not only causes toxicity in humans, but also in animals. It is usually found in earth’s crust in trace amounts, but can be found in the environment all around us. Before the 1970’s, it was widely used in paints and gasoline, but since then it’s use is banned in the United States. However, it is still found in the soil and dust of old houses and buildings. Other sources of lead exposure include water through soldered fixtures and pipes. It is also found in many products such as painted toys and jewelry, furniture, cosmetics (lipstick, sindoor, kohl), foods and liquid stored and served in lead containers, artificial turfs, glazed pottery, ammunitions, mines, manufacturing units, foundry, ceramics and some folk remedies.
What Is The Normal Level Of Lead In Blood?
Blood lead levels can be measured with the help of a blood test, which will determine if the blood lead level is low or high. A high blood level is defined as greater than 10 mcg/dl of lead in blood. About 99% Americans fall below the threshold level. However, studies have shown that even a fifth level of lead, i.e., 2 mcg/dl is considered bad for heart health and increases the chance of heart attack, stroke, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and cancer. The lead blood levels in the US citizens have reduced since the ban of lead paints in homes and buildings as well as gasoline, but still remain high.
Children are more prone to lead toxicity than adults and there has been no identifiable safe blood level for children. Even lower than 10 mcg/dl blood lead level in children has shown to cause toxicity affecting their growth, behavior, IQ and cognitive skills. Currently, CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has proposed 5 mcg/dl as a lead level of concern for children; earlier to 2012, 10 mcg/dl was considered level of concern for children too. This reference value has been proposed based on the surveys of NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey).
If the reference range is between 0-4 mcg/dl, then there is very little lead in the child’s blood. When the range is between 5-9 mcg/dl, then the child has more lead in blood than most children. In this scenario, the child should be tested every 3 to 6 months for lead blood levels and proper measures should be taken to identify the source of lead exposure and to minimize it.
When the reference range is between 10-14 mcg/dl, then the lead level in child’s blood is high and the child should be tested every 1 to 3 months for blood lead levels. In addition, measures should be taken to protect child from further lead exposure. If the reference range is between 15-44 mcg/dl, then the child has very high level of lead in blood. The child should be tested every 1 to 3 months between the reference range of 15-24 mcg/dl and every 2 to 4 weeks between the reference ranges of 25-44 mcg/dl.
When the reference range is higher than 45 mcg/dl, the child needs immediate medical attention and might need chelation therapy for lead poisoning.
Proper measures should be employed to prevent lead exposure and toxicity to children as they are at a greater risk of developing lead toxicity. House should be free from paint chipping/peeling and children and pregnant women should be kept away if renovation of old houses is being done. It is best to maintain hygiene and hands should be washed after playing, before eating and before going to bed. Floors should be mopped and windows cleaned regularly and kept free from dust. Lead free dishes should be used and lead fixtures should be replaced. In addition, foods rich in calcium, iron and vitamin C should be consumed. Foods rich in these nutrients prevent lead from being stored in the body. The best way to protect children and adults from lead toxicity is to prevent the exposure from lead.