Epidemiology

Lead is the most common cause of chronic metal poisoning and remains a major environmental contaminant. Elevated blood levels in children aged 1 to 5 years have been linked with these community characteristics: urban dwellings, dwellings built before 1974 (especially those built prior to 1946), poverty, non-Hispanic black race/ethnicity, and higher population density.12 Data from phase 2 of the National Health and Nutritional Survey III (NHANS III) for children aged 1 to 5 years indicate that an estimated 890,000 children have blood lead levels of 10 pg/dL or more; this represents a substantial decline in the prevalence of elevated blood lead levels since 1976.3 Ihis decline is attributed to bans on lead in household paints, gasoline, plumbing systems, and food and drink cans, as well as lead abatement programs and the promulgation of standards for industrial use of lead.1

Elevated lead levels may have detrimental effects on intellectual development,4 and thus lead toxicity remains a significant public health problem. Both inorganic and organic forms of lead produce clinical toxicity. Inorganic lead affects the central and peripheral nervous systems, hematopoietic system, kidney, gastrointestinal tract, liver, myocardium, and reproductive capacity. With organic lead intoxication, central nervous system (CNS) effects predominate.

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