2/27/02 - The Dangers of Lead Exposure

The Missouri Department of Health says nearly 50 percent of children under seven-years-old in Herculaneum have high levels of lead in their blood. That's compared to three percent nationally, and now officials with the state's department of health are calling the situation an urgent health hazard. Lead exposure is dangerous for children of any age, because it can affect their nervous system, and if they're not treated after they're exposed, the damage can be permanent.

Dr. Paul Caruso at Southeast Hospital says, "If you're living in an area where there's a high level of lead in the soil, you can't avoid the soil." That's exactly what's happening in Herculaneum, where the Doe Run lead smelter isn't just filling the ground with lead, but also the air. Dr. Caruso says, "When lead does get into your body, what it does is, it binds to certain enzymes and it inhibits your ability to produce blood cells." Something that a report by the Missouri Department of Health says is happening to nearly half of the young children in Herculaneum. Lead poisoning can creep into a person's blood steam without them realizing it, because many times, it doesn't show up physically.

Someone who's been exposed to lead may be inattentive, hyperactive, or irritable but the problems go much deeper than that. "Lead is a direct toxin, so it brings a toxic affect to the body, definitely for children who's brains are developing, the effect's more severe." They're effects that could lead to learning problems, delayed growth, hearing loss, and in some cases, brain damage. "Until the lead is removed, their children will be constantly exposed" Dr. Caruso says.

There are tests out there to see if you've been exposed to lead. There are also treatments and medicines you can take. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned you or your child's been exposed.