Lead

QUESTION

Why is lead often considered dangerous to people?

ANSWER

Lead is toxic to everyone, but especially to unborn babies and young children. Lead is a dangerous poison which can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or swallowed. It can be absorbed more readily by bodies that are developing and growing, rather than by adults whose bodies are already fully mature.

Lead poisoning causes a wide range of medical problems, including stomach pains, hearing problems, posture difficulties, headaches, decreased intelligence, attention deficit, learning problems, anemia, and behavioral problems. Lead has severe effects on a child’s developing brain.

What makes lead so dangerous? Once it gets inside a person’s system, it is distributed to all parts of the body, just like the other helpful minerals that you want, such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus.

In the bloodstream, lead damages red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Damage to red blood cells means a person is anemic. Anemic people are tired all the time,

Most lead ends up in the bones. Bones absorb calcium. Calcium is needed for strong bones and good teeth, plus muscle contraction, and nerve function. Absorbed lead, which you don’t want, is displacing calcium, which you do want.

One of the menacing features of lead toxicity is that lead can reside in a person’s body for decades. No threshold for lead exposure has been found. That is another of saying that most any amount of lead can be harmful.

Where does lead come from? Historically, lead came for lead-lined water pipes. Fortunately, lead pipes used to carry drinking water are banned. Leaded gasoline was banned in the 1970’s. Lead in paint was a big problem. Little kids would gnaw on painted window sills and furniture, and perhaps ingest paint chips.  Lead used in paint was outlawed in the ’70s.

Toys from overseas are a continuing problem. Millions of toys from China were recalled  in 2007 because of lead paint.

An obvious question is: why don’t we get rid of all lead and don’t even mine the stuff? Answer:  lead is valuable and necessary. Lead is used in our car batteries, the lead-acid storage kind. Lead is used in fishing lures, ballast for sailing boats, ammunition, radiation shielding in medical and dental facilities, and glassware. We need lead but must continue to find ways to prevent it from getting into our body.

Wisconsin has a rich tradition in mining lead. In the 1830s, experienced miners from Cornwall, England built their limestone houses in Grant, Iowa, and Lafayette counties. By 1840, over 4,000 miners were mining for lead around Mineral Point and New Diggings in the southwest corner of the state. They dug into the hillside like the furry animal named the badger. That’s why Wisconsin is known as the badger state. Most of the lead ammunition for Union troops in the Civil War came from Wisconsin.

 

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