Lead, which is classified as a “heavy metal,” is highly toxic. It can enter the human body by inhalation in the form of dust particles in the air, by ingestion (in water or food) or by contact with the skin. Because it tends to accumulate in bone marrow and nerve tissue, this form of chemical exposure is very dangerous to people.

Lead found in many products

For many years, lead was used in a wide array of products—such as gasoline (which contains benzene), solder, water pipes and most especially, household products like paint. In an effort to reduce people’s exposure to lead and thus lead poisoning, in 1978 the United States government banned the sale of lead-based paint for homes, and the amount of lead in gasoline was reduced.

Although lead is no longer used in the manufacturing of many products such as paint or water pipes, other products that had been made before the ban went into effect remain in existence and may be contaminated. Lead can often be found in older homes and apartment buildings, many of which even now contain lead-based paint on the walls and plumbing made of lead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 20 million American homes still have lead-based paint inside of them.

Disastrous effects of lead poisoning

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most frequent sources of lead poisoning in children today. Children are more likely than adults to suffer from lead poisoning, due to the tendency to put things in their mouths. As many as 400,000 American children have experienced some degree of lead poisoning, which can have disastrous effects. The accumulation of lead in their nervous system can lead to severe developmental problems, such as:

• Kidney damage
• Learning disabilities
• Brain damage • Speech problems
• Seizures • Impaired hearing
• Decreased muscle and bone growth • Nervous system damage

Many of the negative effects of lead poisoning are irreversible—regardless of treatment—and can result in death. Lead poisoning is not easy to diagnose because its symptoms may be resemble other ailments such as the flu. Children who have been exposed to lead may exhibit symptoms like appetite loss, weight loss, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, headaches, anemia, aggressiveness and sluggishness. A blood test is the most effective way to determine whether a child has elevated levels of lead.

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