Lead poisoning, also known as saturnism or plumbism or painter’s colic, is caused by higher-than-normal blood levels of the metal lead (Pb). It can induce brain, kidney, stomach, heart, hearing, muscle and fertility damage. In growing children, Pb poisoning causes low IQ, hyperactivity, attention deficit, learning disabilities and anaemia. Women with high blood Pb levels develop early osteoporosis, lower backache, joint pain and persistent anaemia.
At 5mcg/dL Pb is classified as ‘dangerous’ and at 10mcg/dL, it is known to cause ‘permanent damage’. A 2003-2006 study report from Chennai about 814 children between 3-7 years, showed that children with Pb poisoning scored low on hand-eye coordination tests. In a recent interview, Dr Venkatesh Thuppil, an expert on Pb poisoning in India explained that Pb is taken into the body via lungs, intestine and skin. Pb is stored in red blood cells (RBCs), kidneys, bones plus other organs and is difficult to remove from the brain.