Adult Lead Poisoning
Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in small amounts in the earth's crust. Found in a high number of uses, the hazards of lead poisoning were not fully recognized by the general public until the 1970s, though there is evidence that centuries of controversy exists over the useful but very dangerous metal. Lead is known to have harmful effects on the heart, kidneys and the reproductive, nervous and hematological systems of the human body.
Although the most focus of lead poisoning has been on children, adult lead poisoning is still a very important focus as well. Adult lead poisoning can be the result of inhaling or swallowing lead. For both children adult lead poisoning the main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system. Workplace exposure can be a major source of adult lead poisoning, with occupations dealing with painting, metals smelting and mining, firearms instructors, rubber products and plastics industries, battery manufacturing plants, automotive repair/mechanics, brass and copper foundry workers and bridge, tunnel and elevated highway construction workers, as well as other occupations a major risk factor for adult lead poisoning. Adult lead poisoning attributed to workplace hazards are usually exposed by breathing in air containing lead particles.
Between 500,000 and 1.5 million workers are exposed to lead in the workplace. Once lead inhalation occurs it can quickly spread to other parts of the body in a person's blood. The long-term exposure of lead to adults at the workplace has resulted in decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the nervous system. The lead exposure can also cause weakness in fingers, wrists and ankles. Adult lead poisoning may increase blood pressure, according to some studies, in addition to causing anemia. High levels of adult lead poisoning can severely damage the brain and kidneys.
Women with adult lead poisoning while pregnant can result in her baby being born with low birth weight, premature birth or miscarriage. When men are suffering from adult lead poisoning, the organs responsible for sperm production can become damaged. OSHA regulations limit the concentration of lead in workroom air to 50 ug/m^3 for an eight hour workday. A worker found to have adult lead poisoning levels of 50 ug/dL is required by OSHA to be removed from the workroom where lead exposure is present. The EPA limits lead emissions within specific industries.
Adult lead poisoning is not suffered as easily as children lead poisoning because adults absorb much lower amounts of lead that will reach their digestive tract than children. Still, lead exposure for any human presents serious and sometimes irreversible effects. Even though lead has been banned from gasoline, residential paint and solder used for food cans and water pipes over the years, lead does not break down naturally so it can continue presenting problematic effects until it is removed. The risk of adult lead poisoning is only increased because of the inability to see, taste or smell the presence of lead.
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