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Lead and the Body

Lead is not a needed or vital nutrient. The body perceives lead as calcium or iron, and as a result can store lead in bones.  Since it is toxic, even small amounts can cause health damage and in extreme cases, even be fatal.

Lead interferes with a variety of body processes, and is poisonous to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproductive and nervous systems. It interferes with the development of the nervous system and is therefore particularly dangerous to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders. Symptoms include abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anemia, irritability, and in severe cases seizures, coma and death.

Elevated lead in the body can be detected by the presence of changes in blood cells visible with a microscope and dense lines in the bones of children seen on X-rays. The only sure way to know if a child has been lead poisoned is to have blood test.

Humans have been using this heavy metal for thousands of years, poisoning themselves in the process. Although lead poisoning is one of the oldest known work and environmental hazards, the modern understanding of the small amount of lead necessary to cause harm did not come about until the latter half of the 20th century. No safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered—that is, there is no known amount of lead that is too small to cause the body harm.

Opening and closing the doors or windows inside a home painted with lead-based paint, as well as any other source of deteriorating lead-based paint, will most likely create lead dust. Children are exposed to lead when they put their mouths on toys covered with lead dust. Small doses of lead can build up in the bones and teeth, and stay there for years. A child’s development can be slowed when this stored lead is released back into the bloodstream and circulates through the body, harming growing organs, muscles, and bone. 

Children should be screened for lead until the age of two, and can continue to be screened through the age of six, which is when important brain development takes place. Primary Care Physicians are often able to administer a finger stick blood test to screen for lead, which provides same-day results. There are additional blood tests that may take a few days to return results.

Please contact the Manchester Health Department to discuss a free lead screening appointment. Visit https://www.manchesternh.gov/Departments/Health/Clinics/Lead-Screenings  or call (603) 624-6466.