Elevated Levels of Lead in the Environment

Lead poisoning is a common headline in today’s news.  Parents are warned to protect their toddlers and young children from it but lead continues to silently infiltrate almost all living systems.  It has no biological role and is a cumulative poison. Since the beginning of the 1800’s industrial pollution has dumped huge amounts of toxins into the air and waterways.  Concern for pollution began to appear in the early 1900’s but did not grasp public attention.  In the San Francisco bay area 40 horses were found dead in pastures adjacent to a lead smeltering facility in the 1970’s.  This spurred public concern for the health of people living in industrial areas.

Today’s concerns include endangered birds. Golden and Bald Eagles often consume waterfowl and small mammals killed with lead shots by hunters.  Eagle carcasses collected in Canada have shown that the birds contained elevated levels of lead that may have resulted in their death: a higher number of these carcasses being found during the waterfowl-hunting season. If a bird killed by a lead shot is consumed by a human; lead fragments left by the bullet may cause poisoning.  Fishing sinkers made of lead can contaminate the ecosystem if they are lost in a body of water.  

Humans are constantly exposed to lead through pollution.  We consume plants and animals that have been polluted with harmful elements.  Fertilizers often contain lead and other heavy metals that eventually enter the food chain.  Coastal regions of the oceans may contain high levels of lead due to industrial pollution.  Food from the ocean like fish, edible seaweeds, and sea salt may contain potentially toxic amounts of lead.   Many food-processing companies may be unaware that their products are hazardous.  

How can one tell if they have chronic lead poisoning?  People who are diagnosed with lead poisoning exhibit general symptoms including malaise, fatigue, irritability, depression, impotence, and surprisingly many are asymptomatic.  This makes chronic lead poisoning difficult to correctly diagnose.  Additionally, lead distribution in the body is complicated by its mobility between blood, soft tissue, and bone. It has been found that chronic exposure to elevated levels of lead are linked to ADD, ADHD, anorexia, and cancer.

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