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Lead Linked to Increase in Violent Behavior

Lead is a pervasive toxin that can affect nearly every system in the body. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, people who are poisoned by lead may suffer learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, in severe cases, seizures, coma and death.

It's long been known that lead in the environment affects the brain-particularly the developing brains of fetuses and small children. Now it's been suggested by leading researchers that lead exposure, even at very low levels, affects brain development and may be one of the most significant causes of violent crime and antisocial behavior in young Americans.

Kids who are exposed to lead, even at low levels, may be more prone to commit violent crimes and suffer from antisocial behavior.

"Exposure to lead, at doses below those which bring children to medical attention, is associated with increased aggression, disturbed attention and delinquency. A meaningful strategy to reduce crime is to eliminate lead from the environment of children," said Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

While you may think that lead no longer poses a threat since leaded gasoline and lead-based paint have been removed from the U.S. market, think again. Nearly half a million U.S. children between the ages of 1 and 5 have blood lead levels greater than the CDC recommended level of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, according to the CDC.

Major Sources of Lead Exposure

Children are exposed to lead most commonly through lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in worn-out buildings. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978, but much of the paint still exists today. According to the CDC, some 24 million housing units in the United States have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust.

You can also be exposed to lead from:

  • Lead-contaminated residential soil
  • Work exposure (recycling, making auto batteries)
  • Hobbies such as refinishing furniture or making stained-glass windows or pottery
  • Old toys and furniture with lead paint
  • Food and drink stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery
  • Drinking water

What are the Health Risks of Lead?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead can affect both children and adults. As mentioned above, in children lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system and behavior and learning problems. Additionally, it can cause:

Girl Playing

Kids who touch lead-based paint and later put their hands in their mouths (or on toys, pacifiers and other surfaces) are at risk of lead poisoning.

  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches

In adults, lead can cause:

  • Difficulties during pregnancy

  • Reproductive problems in both men and women

  • High blood pressure

  • Digestive problems

  • Nerve disorders

  • Memory and concentration problems

  • Muscle and joint pain

What You Can Do

Even children who appear healthy could have high levels of lead in their systems, so if you suspect your home may contain lead or they may have otherwise been exposed to it, you should have your children tested. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to find out blood lead levels; home test kits are available but, according to the EPA, they're not always accurate.

You can also hire a qualified professional to perform a risk assessment for lead in your home. This includes looking for possible lead sources and advising you on what actions to take to lessen your risk. You can contact the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) or by phone (1(800) 424-LEAD [5323]) for a list of professionals who perform these assessments in your area.

There are, however, general precautions that everyone can take to reduce their chances of being exposed to lead.

Boy Playing

Children's toys should be cleaned weekly to remove dangerous lead-contaminated dust. PerfectClean's ultramicrofiber all-purpose terry cloths are perfect for cleaning toys down to a microscopic level.

  • If you live or work in old buildings (those built prior to 1978) make sure the possible lead paint they were painted with has been removed, particularly if it is deteriorating. To do this, a certified lead "abatement" contractor must be hired to remove, seal or enclose the lead-based paint with special materials (simply painting over the paint will not eliminate the risk).

  • When traveling to foreign countries where lead dangers may not be as known, use caution in old buildings, at the gas pump, in choosing dishware, etc. Use particular caution if you're traveling with young children under 6.

  • Wash children's hands, pacifiers and toys often.
    Eat, and have your children eat, a healthy diet (according to the EPA, children who eat good diets absorb less lead).

  • Lead can be tracked into the home (85 percent of all dirt and contaminants are tracked into the home from outside). To drastically reduce lead (and many other contaminants that, once tracked in, are pollution in the form of dirt and dust), using high-quality doormats and wiping your feet is essential. You can also take your shoes off and leave then at the door, so as not to spread outdoor contaminants indoors.

  • Clean all surfaces in your home, including windowsills, window frames and floors, with ultramicrofiber tools every week. PerfectClean's revolutionary ultramicrofiber tools are used by hospitals, health care centers, schools, fine hotels and other organizations where clean surfaces are essential because at an astonishing 3 microns, the ultramicrofibers are even smaller than most bacteria (each cleaning cloth contains over 300 miles of actual cleaning surface!). They clean down to a microscopic level to keep lead and other contaminant levels as low as possible.

  • When using tap water, use only cold water for all your drinking and cooking needs. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead than cold water.

  • Don't use home remedies or cosmetics that contain lead (arzacon, greta, pay-loo-ah, kohl, alkohl).

  • Use the highest quality air purification system to clear your home's indoor air of lead-contaminated dust and other toxins. You have to be careful, though, of which air purifier you choose, as many of the most popular brands can be highly ineffective. .

Recommended Reading

Dust Dangers: What Exactly is Dust, and Why Can it be so Dangerous?

The Ten Most Common Poisons Among Kids

HealthOrbit February 18, 2005

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Environmental Protection Agency

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