Lead Poisoning in Children:
Unusual Sources and Why They Matter
Children still suffer from lead poisoning, even
though leaded house paint and leaded gasoline are no longer sold. Unusual
sources of lead can cause effects ranging from mild abdominal
symptoms to seizures, coma, and death. Children with lead poisoning
may have lower IQ scores, difficulty with reading and math, and such
behavior issues as attention deficit disorders and delinquency.
In recent years, lead poisoning in the U.S. has
been caused by a variety of items.
cosmetics. Children’s jewelry containing lead has caused
lead poisoning and even death. Some imported cosmetics have been
contaminated with lead; examples include kohl, used as eye
liner, and sindoor, a red powder used on the scalp by married
medicines, traditional medicines, and folk remedies. For
example, azarcon and greta are used to treat
empacho (stomach symptoms); both contain a substantial
amount of lead. Many herbal medicines from India (64% in one
study) contain lead. Lead has been found in folk remedies for
arthritis, infertility, cramps, and colic. Contaminated
medicines have been imported from many countries. In some cases,
they were purchased overseas and brought into the U.S. by
and candies. Tamarind candy and candy wrappers from Mexico
were contaminated with lead. A number of spices and food
products imported from India were contaminated with lead. These
problems were found when children exposed to them were treated
for lead poisoning.
pellets, and hobby items. Licking bullets, swallowing lead
pellets or shot, or breathing fumes from melted lead for fishing
weights have caused lead poisoning. A pregnant woman and her
infant both had lead poisoning from a bullet in the mother’s
spine (she had been shot fifteen years earlier).
Children have had lead poisoning when acidic foods were stored
or served on imported ceramic dishware and pitchers. Lead
poisoning has resulted from contaminated plastic mini-blinds.
Curtain weights may contain lead. Antique cribs and furniture
may be sources of lead-based paint.
Whatever the source, lead poisoning is
dangerous for children. Our bodies don’t need lead; there is no
“normal” lead level in our blood. Lead damages the nervous system,
especially in young children.
Symptoms of lead poisoning can be vague:
stomach pain, fussiness, trouble concentrating, and loss of appetite
could be due to many things besides lead. Lead poisoning is
diagnosed with a blood test. There are treatments, but there is no
substitute for prevention.
Do not use
imported ceramic plates, pitchers, etc. to store or serve food.
Use them for decoration only.
mini-blinds have been recalled because of lead dust. If yours
are old, consider replacing them.
Do not purchase
inexpensive metal jewelry for children. Many types have been
recalled because of high amounts of lead; some substitutes have
contained the toxic metal cadmium.
from licking or sucking on hobby materials that could contain
lead: bullets, pellets, fishing sinkers.
Be certain of the
source and safety of imported cosmetics and medicines,
especially traditional and folk medicines. Many contain heavy
metals, including lead.
If you think that you or someone else may have
lead poisoning, your doctor can do a blood test to find out. This is
the only way to diagnose lead poisoning.
If you have questions about lead or the
treatment of lead poisoning, call
1-800-222-1222. Local poison
center experts will answer your phone call 24 hours a
Information and photos of recalled consumer products containing
lead, such as toys, jewelry, furniture, and decorative items.
Unusual causes of high blood levels in children.
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Centers for Disease Control and
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Gorospe EC, Gerstenberger SL. Atypical
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Lin CG, Schaider LA, Brabander DJ,
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