Exposure to lead is dangerous because this heavy metal is a toxin which can cause severe health problems and death at high levels of exposure. Humans have been working with lead for centuries, and giving themselves lead poisoning at the same time due to a lack of understanding about the risks of lead exposure. While lead has been recognized as dangerous for quite some time, it was only in the 20th century that the issue was fully understood, and people started taking steps to reduce lead exposure for safety.
One of the more serious problems associated with lead exposure is neurological damage. Lead can cause people to experience seizures, lack of muscle control, and numerous other neurological problems, and the damage can be cumulative, which means that once lead starts to build up in the body, the patient will experience more serious problems. Lead is also hard on the liver and kidneys, as these organs will attempt to process the toxin and remove it from the body, and the metal can lead to reproductive abnormalities and severe heart conditions.
For children, lead exposure is especially dangerous, because their bodies are still developing, and the metal can cause serious developmental problems. The onset of lead poisoning can be slow, so parents may not realize what is going on until a child has accrued significant damage as a result of lead exposure. Adults and pets are also at risk.
People can be exposed to lead in a number of ways. Many adults experience occupational exposure caused by the industries they work in, inhaling lead dust or consuming lead by accident in poorly controlled workplaces. Children can get lead poisoning from toys with lead paint, or by living in houses with lead paint. The paint can chip or flake off, contributing lead dust to the air, and it can also be found in the air and soil around a house. Lead is also found in old pipes, jewelry, and a wide variety of other materials routinely handled and used by people.
People should try to minimize lead exposure as much as possible by working in safe environments and disposing of old paint, chemicals, and other potential sources of toxins responsibly. Testing for lead levels is available at many hospitals and clinics, for people who are concerned about exposure. At low levels, removing the source of the exposure and supplementing the diet with iron and calcium can help reduce symptoms. High levels of lead exposure will require more aggressive treatment, such as chelation therapy, in which the lead is removed from the blood with the use of a chemical which binds to it.