The lead poisoning the water in Flint, MI has shocked and horrified the country, including all of us here at Alzein Pediatric Associates. If you’re confused about why lead poisoning is such a serious health concern, we’re here to explain.
Where does lead come from?
Contamination can come from corroding lead pipes, from pipes installed before 1930, from pipes soldered with lead in the last five years or from private wells. Poisoning also occurs from exposure to lead-based paint chipping or being sanded, from the soil near any structure built before 1978 or from some playground surfaces. Lead has also been found recently in imported toys decorated with lead-based paint.
What’s so dangerous about it?
Lead is a toxic poison that can be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. It is not visible to the naked eye. Lead accumulates in bones, blood, brain cells and organs, building higher and higher levels the longer one is exposed. Acute toxicity happens when one is exposed to high levels for a short time. Chronic toxicity happens when one is continually exposed to small levels of lead.
What are the effects of lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning can cause a myriad of problems depending upon exposure levels, length of exposure, and age and developmental stage of the child or person exposed.
• Anemia, caused by lead damaging red blood cells
• Stunted muscle and bone growth which damages motor function and coordination
• Nervous system damage
• Kidney damage
• Brain development damage, impairing normal development
• Executive functioning damage, including decision-making skills, increasing violent behavior
While some of these effects can be reversed at low levels of lead exposure, some challenges may be permanent.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning symptoms can also be associated with any number of illnesses, so it’s important to talk to Alzein Pediatric Associates if you suspect poisoning. Symptoms include:
• vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain or constipation
• behavioral problems and irritability
• headaches, difficulty concentrating, seizures
• complaints of a metallic taste in the mouth
• weight loss or loss of appetite
• pale complexion
• muscle or joint weakness or pain
How do I know if my child or someone in my family is experiencing lead poisoning?
Your child will have a simple blood test here at Alzein Pediatric Associates. Lead levels are then measured in the blood sample. If your child has a level of 45 micrograms per deciliter or higher, your child will be treated for lead poisoning. Anything higher than 5 mcg/dl means we will carefully and regularly monitor your child.
Can lead poisoning be treated?
Yes, but some effects may still be permanent. Eliminating the exposure to the lead source is the first and most important step. For children who test at higher levels of lead, chelation therapy or ECTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) therapy may be used. These therapies may require hospitalization.
What happened in Flint anyway?
City officials changed the water supply for Flint residents, pulling water from the Flint River rather than Detroit sources. Their lack of water treatment, coupled with a higher level of iron in the Flint River water, meant that the lead in the old, corroding infrastructure began to leach into the drinking water piped into residents’ homes.
How can I discover if lead is a problem in my home?
There are many test kits on the market, sold at hardware stores and local DIY warehouses. You can purchase tests for paint and other coated surfaces, for water, and for soil.
If you have any reason at all to suspect anyone in your family has been exposed to lead, call Alzein Pediatrics at 708-424-7600 immediately to schedule a simple blood test to check lead levels. The sooner unsafe lead levels are identified, the faster treatment can begin, giving your child a better chance at recovery.