What is lead toxicity?

Updated: Jan 16, 2020
  • Author: Pranay Kathuria, MD, FACP, FASN, FNKF; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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Answer

For centuries, lead toxicity has been one of the most significant preventable causes of neurologic morbidity from an environmental toxin. A heavy metal, lead is ubiquitous in our environment but has no physiologic role in biological systems. Lead toxicity is a particularly insidious hazard with the potential of causing irreversible health effects. It interferes with a number of body functions primarily affecting the central nervous, hematopoietic, hepatic and renal system producing serious disorders. Acute toxicity is related to occupational exposure and is quite uncommon. Chronic toxicity on the other hand is much more common.

The ongoing emphasis on abatement of lead environments places added emphasis on occupational exposure to lead (eg, among workers at smelters or battery recycling plants). [1] Such exposure is a continuing problem. Whereas occupational exposure remains an occasional concern, the greatest public health issue related to lead at present is exposure of young children to decaying fragments of leaded paint. More recently, contaminated drinking water has become a cause of childhood lead exposure because of aging infrastructure.


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