What is Lead?

It’s a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) element found in trace amounts along the Earth’s crust. Normally it’s toxic to humans and animals, but it’s commonly found in many buildings and structures because of its beneficial properties. A dull, silver-gray metal that’s known for its moldable yet resilient traits, lead was used in many industries and capacities for decades before it was known to be toxic. It was commonly used in the creation of:

  • Ammunition
  • Batteries
  • Ceramics
  • Cosmetics
  • Gasoline
  • Paint
  • Pewter
  • Pipes
  • Plumbing products
  • Solders

Due to heavy use and distribution, toxic levels of lead can enter the environment and spread easily. There are safe levels of the element that exist without harm, but mining, smelting, and refining cause levels of lead in the environment to rise to dangerous amounts. If it’s released into the air, lead can cross long distances before it finally settles. Once settled, however, it can stick to soil surfaces or fall into bodies of water where it continues to spread.

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Lead, Asbestos, and Cancer

Lead and asbestos are mentioned together because they are commonly found together and are the most dangerous when friable (easily crumbled, powdered, or otherwise broken down). When lead and asbestos are this way, they have a high potential of becoming airborne, inhaled, and ingested. Both asbestos and lead are often found in older building structures and materials since both materials were used abundantly in construction.

The toxins can be found in old paint and should be avoided when chipped, peeling, or otherwise disturbed. When both of these materials are inhaled, they can get lodged in the chest, abdomen, or other regions, eventually causing cancers. Tumors begin to develop when healthy cells are damaged by harmful substances. The constant scratching and residual scarring eventually can cause the cells to grow out of control and become cancerous.

Can Lead Cause Mesothelioma?

Asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma, but lead can be an increased risk factor and cause other cancers. Cancers that may develop from prolonged poisoning are lung, throat, stomach, and intestinal with a latent, increased risk of all cancers according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Whose at Risk?

Lead is poisonous to all living things, but some people are more at risk than others. Workers in related industries, children, and pregnant women have the highest danger for illness and complications from high exposure. Workers are around the toxin at greater capacities and are more likely to experience harmful exposure. Babies and children are still young, and their developing brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to low doses. The same holds true for pregnant women with passing the toxin to their unborn child upon ingestion. Children six years and younger are the most vulnerable.

Other Illnesses from Lead Poisoning

Besides cancer, lead poisoning can have a range of long-term and short-term adverse effects on people. Short-term effects usually go away when exposure has stopped, and don’t linger on. Long-term effects are less common and only develop after extended exposure at high levels. Because of the continual lead poisoning, long-term effects may last forever.

Short Term Effects

If a person encounters a high amount of lead in a short amount of time, they could feel:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Appetite loss
  • Constipation
  • Headache or migraine
  • Memory loss
  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Weakness or fatigue

These symptoms can appear in a person for several reasons, making lead poisoning harder to pinpoint and sometimes overlooked. Go to the doctor if you experience any symptoms like these.

Long Term Effects

Side-effects from long term lead poisoning in children and babies can be:

  • Anemia
  • Behavior and cognitive issues
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lower IQ
  • Stunted growth
  • Trouble hearing

Adverse long term reactions in pregnant women might include:

  • Premature birth
  • Harm to baby’s brain, kidney’s, or nervous system
  • Risk of behavioral or learning issues in child
  • Greater chance for miscarriage

Long term Illnesses that may develop in other adults can be:

Less common side-effects from prolonged high doses of lead can include seizure, coma, or mortality. Reach out to your doctor if you start to feel uncomfortable after exposure to any toxic substance.

Lower Your Chances of Exposure

There are several ways people can lower their risk of encountering lead, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. Easy tasks like cleaning and maintaining occupied spaces can be all that’s needed.

Other ways to reduce exposure risk are:

  • Check structures with painted surfaces for deterioration
  • Take care of any and all water damage as soon as possible
  • Clean and dust areas regularly, especially those with low ventilation
  • Increase outside ventilation (opening windows and doors)
  • Flush water outlets intended for human or animal use
  • Remove debris from outlet screens or faucet aerators
  • Wash hands, children’s bottles, pacifiers, and toys regularly
  • Instruct young ones how to properly wipe, clean shoes and hands after spending time outside
  • Maintain a healthy diet (research shows that a well-balanced diet can help the body reduce its rate of lead absorption)

While these steps can greatly aid in reducing the risk of harmful exposure, they aren’t guaranteed. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a helpful lead poisoning home checklist that can help readers determine their risk for exposure and how to determine if lead testing is appropriate.

How You Can Properly Remove Lead

You don’t. Only a professional should handle the toxic metal, especially its removal since it can involve going into hazardous areas that could be unstable. If you know or suspect lead and/ or asbestos in your home or business, call professional asbestos or lead removal company that’s certified for the task. They have specialized training and tools that will ensure the toxin is efficiently removed. If the hazardous pollutant isn’t adequately taken care of, someone is exposed, develops, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma or other illness, the building owner, manager, or otherwise responsible person could face legal repercussions.

Next Steps

Wondering if there are other carcinogens to know about? Think you’ve been negligently exposed to lead or asbestos and have developed a related illness? Visit a doctor, they’ll be able to administer tests and give you an official diagnosis. If you want to pursue legal action, you have rights. Get a case evaluation to assess the situation and figure out which moves to make next.

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