Lead poisoning is a condition, also known as plumbism or painter's colic, caused by increased levels of blood serum lead levels. The average person has less than 10 micrograms per deciliter, or 100 parts per billion, ppb, of lead in their blood serum. People who have been exposed to an unusual amount of lead will have lead serum levels higher than 200 ppb - most clinical symptoms of lead poisoning begin at around 100 ppb. The symptoms of lead poisoning include reduced IQ, rashes, irritability, insomnia, excess lethargy or hyperactivity, poor appetite, headache and, in extreme cases, seizure and coma.
Outside of occupational hazards, the majority of lead poisoning occurs in children under age twelve. The main sources of poisoning are ingestion of lead contaminated soil (this is less of a problem in countries that no longer have leaded gasoline) and lead based paints. This is particularly a problem in older houses where the sweet-tasting lead paint is likely to chip. In most states, landlords and those selling such houses are required to inform the potential residents of the danger. A direct link between early lead exposure and extreme learning disability has been confirmed by multiple researchers and child advocacy groups.
Once in the body, lead is biologically inactive – its toxic properties come from lead's ability to mimic other biologically important metals, the most notable of which are iron or zinc. Lead is able to bind to and interact with the same proteins and molecules as iron, but after replacing iron, those molecules function differently and fail to carry out the same reactions.
One measure of lead in the body is the blood lead level (BLL), measured in micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (μg/dL). Nearly everyone has a measurable BLL. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that BLLs of 10 μg/dL or above are cause for concern. However, even at BLLs below 10 μg/dL, lead can impair development.
Most lead poisoning symptoms are thought to occur by interfering with an essential enzyme Delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase , or ALAD. ALAD is a zinc-binding protein which is important in the biosynthesis of heme, the cofactor found in hemoglobin. Genetic mutations of ALAD cause the disease porphyria, a disease which was highlighted in the movie The Madness of King George.
Famous cases of lead poisoning
Last updated: 05-06-2005 14:39:45