Lead

Ingested or inhaled this toxic substance can cause serious health problems.

Fossil fuels, industrial equipment, and the prior use of lead paint may expose us to the hazards of lead. Factory processes or the remodeling of older buildings in the Savannah and Hilton Head area may release lead into the environment. Lead particles released into the air may travel a great distance before settling into the soil and possibly filtering down into the groundwater.

WHERE IS LEAD FOUND IN OUR HOMES AND COMMUNITIES?

Lead is often found in the construction materials of older buildings, consumer products, and even children’s toys. Lead from industrial emissions contaminates the air, water, and soil of the region surrounding the source.

Construction materials (including: lead paint, plaster, wallboards, solders, plumbing materials and piping, and ceramics) are found in varying concentrations in buildings constructed prior to 1977. The EPA estimates that use of lead products in homes can be as high as 87% prior to 1940, but that number falls to just under ¼ of all homes in 1977. The true hazard of these products arises when they start to break down, releasing lead dust to be inhaled or ingested.

Products as innocent as children’s toys may be painted with lead paints. Other consumer products such as dishes, drinking glasses, batteries, ammunition, cosmetics, and gasoline can contain lead. As these products break down, they can release toxic lead dust into the air and surrounding surfaces that can then be inhaled or ingested by humans, especially children.

Industrial emissions can contain varying levels of lead, which is then dispersed into the air to later fall and contaminate the region’s soil. Rain water then can wash these deposited lead particles from the soil and into the water supply. Luckily, in recent history, Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings.

 

Who is at Risk?

Children

Children are especially at risk to lead exposure because their curiosity potentially exposes them to greater quantities of lead as well as the susceptibility of their growing bodies to the toxicity of lead. In small quantities over long periods, lead exposure can severely effect mental and physical development of the brain and nervous system of children. Higher levels of exposure to lead poisoning can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.

Curious small children increase their rate of exposure because of their tendencies to put potentially contaminated objects into their mouth. Even objects that do not directly contain lead can be dangerous in an environment with lead pollution or lead containing products that are decomposing: Lead dust can settle on otherwise safe objects.

Contaminated food or drinking water that is consumed or even safe foods eaten off dishes containing lead can allow lead to be absorbed into the blood stream via the small intestine.

Adults

Long term exposure of lead in adults can lead to nervous system damage and organ failure as the toxic substance accumulates in the body. Living or working in spaces with decomposing lead containing products will lead to exposure to lead dust either via inhaling or consuming contaminated food or water.

Health Effects in Children from Lead Exposure

  • Permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, and hearing problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Anemia

Pregnant Women

Significant lead exposure prior to a pregnancy can still effect a fetus even if the offending substances are removed from the woman’s environment. This is because lead can accumulate in the calcium in our bones, and during pregnancy this same calcium is released through the placenta to help form the bones of the growing fetus. This can cause:

  • Miscarriage
  • Reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth