When you hear about great heavy metal you probably think of Led Zeppelin when you should really be thinking of lead, the material. It has been used though out recorded history meaning man has been using it for over 6,000 years. A look at the characteristics of this bluish-white metal (the dull gray we know it as comes from oxidation) and you will see why. It has a low melting point that makes it easy to extract It is soft so it is easy to mold but at the same time it is durable. It is unique in this respect.
The Downside of Lead
Of course something this good must be bad in some way and lead is no exception, it is also a poison. It inters the body then slowly accumulates in the organs. This has been known by even the Romans but that did not stop its use. It was later used in the goblets of the nobility in Europe, slowly impending their mental function. It was used by the makers of hats, know as hatters, in France who where slowly driven insane by the fumes, giving rise to the phrase “Mad as a hatter.” Finally, It was used in the 19th and 20th century in wall paint. There is was particularly dangerous to children who tend to put things (like paint chips) in their mouth.
Identifying Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning presents a little differently than what we generally think of poisoning. You do not get exposed, become violently ill, and die. It is much slower in its onset and as more and more is absorbed into the body and the symptoms are pretty nondescript. Loss of appetite and weight loss could be anything. It could be simply stress. Irritability and sluggishness could be from a lack of sleep due to the same stress. The development of an unusual pallor and anemia might start sending up the red flags but when learning becomes difficult lead poisoning will be a suspect.
In children, lead poisoning shows up differently. Lead will always have neurological components but children have a developing brain so it causes more damage more quickly. They can lose IQ, develop memory problems and start to have trouble with their attention span. Fine-motor skills are affected as is the ability to grasp concepts. There are even language impairments.
In adults expect numbness in the extremities along with mood swings and headaches. Memory becomes a problem as does weakness. In men, sperm count drops as well too. If you are having these symptoms it is time for a trip to the doctor.
Fixing Lead Poisoning
Here is the classic case of good news/ bad news. The good news is that getting lead out of your system is rather easy. It is done with chelation therapy. In this a chelating agent is introduced to the body to bond with the lead. Once this happens the body flushes out the lead on its own.
The bad news is that this simply arrests the problem. The damage that has been done to the body cannot be undone.
Because of this your best course of action is to not get poisoned at all. Keep your hands washed when working around possible lead. Use cold water for the tap when you can as it has lower levels of lead. Read the ingredients of all products before you eat or use them. They best way to handle lead poisoning is not to get it.