Lead Poisoning Prevention

Lead is a heavy, soft, bluish-gray metal that occurs naturally in the rocks and soil of the earth's crust. It is also produced from burning fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing. Lead has no distinctive taste or smell. The chemical symbol for elemental lead is Pb.

Lead is used to produce batteries, ammunition, pipes, tank linings, solder, casting metals, building construction materials, roofing, scientific electronic equipment, military tracking systems, medical devices, and products to shield x-rays and nuclear radiation. It is used in ceramic glazes and crystal glassware.

Because of health concerns, lead and lead compounds were banned from house paint in 1978; from solder used on water pipes in 1986; from gasoline in 1995; from solder used on food cans in 1996; and from tin-coated foil on wine bottles in 1996. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set a limit on the amount of lead that can be used in ceramics.

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. It can be equally harmful if breathed or swallowed. The part of the body most sensitive to lead exposure is the central nervous system, especially in children, who are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults.

A child who swallows large amounts of lead can develop brain damage which can cause convulsions and death; the child can also develop blood anemia, kidney damage, colic, and muscle weakness. Repeated low levels of exposure to lead can alter a child's normal mental and physical growth, and result in learning or behavioral problems.

More information on blood lead levels, contact the department's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program, at (573) 751-6102.

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