Lead Exposure

What is Lead?                            

Lead is a heavy, toxic metal that can be harmful to people’s health, especially at high levels. It was once used in paint, water pipes, gasoline, and many other household products but U.S. laws have changed so children are not exposed as much as they used to be. Unfortunately, children who live in old housing units can still be exposed through water and chipping paint. 

What is Lead exposure?

Lead exposure is a build-up of lead in the body overtime. It can lead to negative effects on a person’s health such as reduced IQ, poor growth and decreased appetite. In rare cases children can become incredibly sick, requiring hospitalization. 

How is lead exposure measured?

A blood test can be used to see if an individual has been exposed to lead. A lead level of 5 or higher is concerning, but no level of lead in the blood is safe. This test is done routinely at 9 months and 2 years of age. This test is also done on new patients under the age of 5.

What are the symptoms?

  • Sometimes no symptoms are present
  • Sleepiness
  • Learning problems
  • Weight-loss
  • Weakness and little energy
  • Not eating a lot
  • irritability
  • Headaches
  • Constipation 
  • Behavior problems
  • Anemia 
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting or Nausea
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Joint/muscle weakness and pain
  • Seizures

Who is at risk?

  • Children– Babies and infants crawl and tend to touch and put everything in their mouth, including lead dust and paint. Since children are growing, their bodies absorb more lead. Children’s nervous systems and brains are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Children that live in houses that were built before 1978 are at higher risk. This is due to the lead paint and old plumbing that is still in the homes.
  • Adults-workplace exposures and homes can increase the risk of lead exposure
  • Workplaces such as: 
    • Artists
    • Auto repair
    • Construction workers
    • Plumbers

How can I be exposed to lead?

  • Homes built before 1978 Paint 
  • Contaminated soil 
  • Water that comes from lead pipes 
  • Dust 
  • Traditional folk medicines such as Greta and Azarcon, Ghasard, and Ba-baw-san 
  • Toys containing lead paint or metal parts


What is the treatment?

  • Reduce lead exposure
  • Increase Iron, Calcium, and Vitamin C in the diet
  • Severe cases- Medication with possible hospitalization 

What are the effects?

  • Increased risk of developmental effects
  • Negative effect on brain and nervous system
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and Hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing Problems
  • Anemia
  • Decreased bone and muscle growth
  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Speech and language problems
  • Seizures and unconsciousness (in cases of extremely high lead levels)

How can I protect my family from lead exposure?

  • Eat foods high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C that’s low fat. Lead is absorbed faster on an empty stomach so encourage snacking on healthy, low-fat snacks
    • Orange juice
    • Vegetables: broccoli, peppers, spinach
    • String cheese
    • Fruit: oranges, papayas, berries


Spotlight On

Karam Mounzer, MD

Dr. Mounzer identified two major gaps in the care of patients with HIV/hepatitis C (HCV) co-infection, and the complexity of multidrug-resistant HIV treatment. He is involved with many clinical trials focusing on drug development and better understanding of HIV immunopathogenesis with the Wistar Institute. He is involved in teaching and mentoring.

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Dr. Karam Mounzer

Dr. Mario Cruz

Dr. Mario CruzDr. Cruz is a board certified pediatrician who serves as the Medical Director for our Pediatrics and Adolescent Health Center. He has presented and/or published in the fields of community violence and domestic violence prevention, quality improvement, behavioral health, curriculum development and mentorship. In 2019 he received the Greater Philadelphia Social Innovation Award for Innovations in Healthcare.

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