What is Lead Poisoning

Produced by Jeffrey Feuer and Benjamin Hiller
Reviewed May 2017

Lead is a poisonous metal that can cause serious and permanent damage to a young child, even if there are no physical symptoms present. Childhood lead poisoning is usually caused by a child's swallowing very small lead paint chips or inhaling or ingesting lead dust. Even low levels of lead in a young child's body can cause problems ranging from reduced attention span, hyperactivity, irritability, and loss of appetite to IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, hearing and speech problems, and behavior problems, depending on the amount of lead and the length of time it is in the child's body. High levels of lead can cause permanent damage to a child's brain, central nervous system, and other organs, such as the kidneys. Very high levels of exposure to lead can cause convulsions, severe mental retardation and even death.

Young children (under the age of 6) absorb lead more easily than adults, and the lead can remain undetected in the body for a long time. The harm done by lead poisoning may never go away and could permanently affect a child's physical and mental growth and development.

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