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Lead Poisoning: A Problem For Flint, Michigan

By Quiana Lewis 1/29/2016


     The risk of exposure is exceptionally high in Missouri as the state produces more lead than any other state. Recently in Flint, Michigan, Officials have discovered lead contaminated water. The source of lead in the drinking water is old lead piping and lead-combining solders. Removing old piping is costly and lead continues to dissolve even from old pipes. Together with, Missouri's major lead-producing area, known as the New Lead Belt, a 35-mile long ore-producing area in Iron County, Missouri. Mining waste from the New Lead Belt includes high levels of lead in dust, air, and soil that may contaminate places in which children frequent such as yards and play areas (MDHSS, 2011). In addition, 65% of Missouri homes were built prior to 1978 and contain leaded paint (MDHSS, 2002). In 62 of the 115 Missouri counties, including the New Lead Belt, at least 24% of homes were constructed before 1950 (MDHSS, 2011).

Exposure Routes

     Aside from water, there are many ways in which a person can be exposed to lead. Some lead compounds are found in paints. As the paint deteriorates, the resulting dust has a high lead content. This can be a major problem for small children because children are prone to crawling on the floor and putting things in their mouth. In addition, lead can be found naturally in soil, but at higher concentrations in urban areas that have been polluted, as well as in landfills which contain pesticides, gasoline and engine oil, or nearby industries such as refineries or smelters.

How Lead Poisoning Can Affect You?

Lead is metal element found on earth in the carbon group with symbol Pb atomic number 82. Too much lead in the system can cause a lot of harm to your body. When lead enters the body, lead is absorbed, distributed, but before being excreted, it gains access to the kidneys, liver, bone marrow and most importantly the brain (Yes, lead easily crosses the blood-brain barrier).

     Particularly in children, lead can be very damaging to children because of their nervous systems and brains are still developing. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter are associated with harmful effects on children's ability to learn. Very high blood lead levels of 70 micrograms per deciliter can cause devastating health consequences, Children in about four million U.S. homes today are being exposed to high levels of lead (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2013). In children up to 3 years old, lead is able to pass through the endothelial cells at the blood brain barrier because it can substitute for calcium ions and be up taken by calcium pumps, leading to permanent neurological damage. Thus, children take in and preserve more lead in proportion to their mass than adults.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

     Symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, irritability, reduced sensations, aggressive behavior and difficulty sleeping. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, constipation and anemia. At very high levels, lead can cause convulsions, coma and death.

diagram of lead poisoning symptoms


     In such severe cases, a procedure known as chelation therapy can be used. Chelation therapy is a chemical process in which a synthetic solution-EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is injected into the bloodstream to remove heavy metals and/or minerals from the body. When EDTA is injected into the veins, it attracts heavy metals and minerals. EDTA can attract lead, mercury, copper, iron, arsenic, aluminum, and calcium and they get excreted in urine. Chelation therapy is usually stopped when symptoms resolve or when blood lead levels return to premorbid levels.

If you are concerned that you may have high levels of lead in your water, here's some things you can do:

  1. Use cold water for drinking and cooking. Never cook or mix infant formula using hot water from the tap.
  2. Make it a practice to run the water from the tap before use.
  3. Do not drink the water that has been siting in your homes plumbing for more than six hours. Run the water first until you feel the temperature change before using the water for cooking, drinking or brushing your teeth.
    KEEP IN MIND: Boiling your water doesn't get rid of lead.
  4. If you live in an older home, consider having the water tested. For more information on testing your water, call EPA's safe drinking hotline at (800)- 426-4791
  5. Consider purchasing in-home water filters that remove lead.
  6. Skip the above steps and purchase bottled water, which is the safest bet.


Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. (2011). Lead poisoning prevention program annual report. Retrieved from

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. (2002). Environmental public health tracking: FAQs. Retrieved from http://ephtn.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1991). Preventing lead poisoning in young children: Chapter 3. Retrieved from http:// htm#Lead-Based%20Paint

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Lead. Retrieved from

Lead poisoning. By: Stark, Sharon W., RN, APRN, DNSc, Milstein, Randall L., PhD, Magill's Medical Guide (Online Edition), January, 2015

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