Lead - This naturally occurring mineral once helped revitalize cities.
"We had leaded gasoline, there was lead in the paints that we were using," said Dr. Kenneth Fawcett. "Lead was in toys and crayons, in folk remedies and pottery."
But now, Dr. Fawcett, with Spectrum Health’s Healthier Communities, says it has a new reputation -- as a toxin.
"It has been associated with attention deficit hyper activity disorder, and then a tendency towards violence and crime," he said.
But what is it about lead that makes it so toxic?
"It gets bound to our bones and then gets released back into circulation." Dr. Fawcett goes on to explain that as lead moves through our bodies, it depletes calcium, zinc and iron in our brain, liver, kidneys and bones. “The real challenge is that lead intoxication or poisoning creates a whole series of behavioral issues."
The list of health issues associated with lead poisoning is a long one. In children, it can damage the brain and nervous system leading to developmental issues, a lower IQ and stunted growth.
Prolonged lead poisoning can lead to high blood pressure, anemia, kidney problems, erratic mood swings, seizures, infertility, miscarriages and memory problems. Dr. Fawcett says diagnosing those symptoms can be difficult, "One challenge with lead is that there are no easy ways of looking at someone early on and identifying that they are in the early stages of lead poisoning."
Lead poisoning comes from water, lead paint, contaminated soil and even the air we breathe. The Environmental Protection Agency found 75 percent of those living near an airport have higher levels of lead because of airplane exhaust.
The effects of lead poisoning can be reversed in adults, but Fawcett says children under the age of two have a much higher chance of lifelong complications.
It takes about 25 days for lead to be excreted from blood, 40 days for soft tissues like organs, and nearly 10 years for bones and teeth. But the effects can last a lifetime.
There are two state public forums on lead poisoning and children taking place this month and you are invited to attend.
Both will be held on Thursday, May 31, at the Kent County Health Department. One from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and the other from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
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