Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

a list of environmental health hazards and health effects

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Health Effects

Lead affects practically all systems within the body. Lead is most harmful to children under age six because lead is easily absorbed into their growing bodies, and interferes with the developing brain and other organs and systems. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are also at increased risk, because lead ingested by the mother can cross the placenta and affect the unborn fetus. At very high levels of lead exposure, which are now very rare in the US, lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, coma, convulsions, and even death. More commonly in the US, children are poisoned through chronic, low-level exposure. Low-level lead exposure can cause reduced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia, and a range of other health, intellectual, and behavioral effects. At these low, but still dangerous levels, lead poisoning may not present identifiable symptoms and a blood test is the only way to know if a child is poisoned. Except for severely poisoned children, there is no medical treatment for this disease. Even then, the treatment may only reduce the level of lead present in the body, without completely eliminating it. The only way to prevent lead poisoning is to remove the source of exposure.

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Last updated 1827 days ago by Corrine Mohnasky