Issue of November 5, 2017

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Lead poisoning

Exposure to lead should be avoided in order to prevent its accumulation in the body and to avoid its toxic effects. Lead enters the body by breathing or swallowing a substance that contains lead, such as dust, paint, water, or food. Once lead enters the body through the lungs and stomach, more than 90 percent enters the bones where it is stored. It can then be released into the blood again and cause re-exposure of the body tissues and organs to lead.

There is enough evidence that very low blood levels – less than5 ug/dl – are associated with adverse effects. It impairs growth and development in children. The brain is at great risk and irreversible brain damage can occur. Even low levels can already harm the kidneys by causing chronic inflammation. At levels less than 10 ug/dl, hypertension develops. Irreversible kidney damage (lead nephropathy) develops after continuous or repetitive exposure. There are no known safe exposure levels to lead.

Effects of poisoning

In children: loss of appetite, weight loss, irritability, difficulties in learning, developmental and growth abnormalities, easy fatigue, abdominal pains and nausea or vomiting, constipation, hearing loss, and seizures.

Among adults: hypertension, joint and muscle pains, headaches, difficulties with memory or attention, abdominal pains, mood disorders, spontaneous abortion or premature birth in pregnant women, and male infertility. Blood uric acid levels may increase when the weakened kidneys cannot eliminate this body waste product.

What are the risk factors for lead poisoning?

● The fact that we live in a developing country already puts us at risk. We do not yet have strict rules on the prevention of lead exposure.

● Young age: Infants and children under the age of six absorb lead more easily and this toxin is more harmful to them. They may chew paint flakes from walls or furniture. Dust contaminated with lead can easily get into their hands. They are exposed to toys with lead-containing paint.

● Among adults, exposure to lead is high in hobbies or occupation like handling or refinishing old furniture, making stained glass, renovating older homes where lead paint was used, making jewelries with lead solder. Firing ranges also expose to lead. Persons who work in auto repair shops, constructions, mines, welding shops, and similar workplaces can bring home lead-containing dust in their clothing and unknowingly expose their family to lead.

How do you know if you have lead toxicity? Your doctor will do a complete physical examination and will request for a blood test to determine your blood lead level. If your blood lead level is high and lead toxicity is considered, additional blood tests will be done to assess your organ systems.


First and foremost is to discontinue exposure. Removal of the source is most important. Chelation therapy will have only temporary benefits if the source is not removed.

Chelation therapy is considered when blood lead levels are very high at 25 ug/dl and above and lead poisoning is severe. Oral or injectable drugs are used. This is done by experts in this therapy.

Diet: adequate calories rich in calcium, zinc, and iron. Low dietary intake of Vitamin C and iron may increase lead levels in blood.


Workers in high-risk jobs should be informed of the hazards of lead. Protective gears should be worn. Exhaust systems should be provided.

The use of lead paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978. In the Philippines, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Environmental Management Bureau in 2015 conducted multi-stakeholders’ assembly and consultation on the prohibition of use of lead paint.

For 2016, it aimed to identify lead compounds used in painting and the elimination of these compounds by 2017. Full elimination of lead paint started on Jan. 1, 2017 in architectural, decorative and household paints. The elimination of lead paint for industrial use is now being studied. Canada banned the use of lead-containing fuel in 1990 followed by the U.S. on Jan. 1, 1996. Leaded gasoline was phased out in the Philippines on Jan. 1, 2001.

Regularly wash children’s hands and toys.

Prevent children from playing in bare soil.

Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window parts. Every two to three weeks is recommended. Take off shoes when entering the house to prevent bringing in lead-contaminated soil and dust from outside.

Avoid using containers, cookware, or tableware not shown to be lead-free.

Avoid traditional folk medicine and cosmetics that may contain lead. Some popular brands of lipstick, even expensive ones, contain lead for long and lasting effects.

Shower and change clothes after activities that involve lead-based products like stained glass, using a firing range, or making decorative jewelries.

For comments, medical questions and medical problems please email or

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