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Lead is a toxic metal and neurotoxin that is poisonous to humans. No level of exposure has been found to be safe.
Part of the reason lead poses such a health risk is that the body cannot tell the difference between lead and calcium. When humans are exposed to lead, the body absorbs lead into the bloodstream and organs the same way it does calcium. Once absorbed, lead stays in the systems for several months. Eventually, some of the lead will be excreted and rid from the body. Any lead that is not excreted is absorbed into the bones where it accumulates over a life time.
According to the EPA, blood testing has shown correlations between low levels of lead and the following symptoms in children:
Very high levels of lead in blood can cause severe neurological problems, including coma, convulsions or even death.
The only way to check for lead exposure in children is a blood test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should see a doctor if their blood lead content exceeds 50 parts per billion (or less than a millionth of an ounce in a pint).
In adults, lead exposure can cause damage to nearly every organ and system in the body. The central nervous systems, kidneys and reproductive system are particularly affected. In men, lead exposure has also been associated with increased blood pressure.
Pregnant women may be at even higher risk than children for lead-related complications. Lead exposure can cause serious health and development problems in children, but fetuses are even more sensitive to exposure. Women exposed to lead during pregnancy have an increased risk for miscarriage and their babies are at risk for serious organ damage and developmental problems.