Lead and your health
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Fact sheet on lead and the effects it can have on your health
The effects from lead are the same whether it enters the body by breathing or swallowing. Lead targets the brain and nervous system in both adults and children.
In adults, long-term exposure to low levels of lead may be associated with:
At very high levels, lead can severely damage brain and kidney function and ultimately cause death. People with diabetes have a higher risk of adverse effects associated with the kidney.
In pregnant women, high levels of exposure may cause decreased birth weight or miscarriage, while it can damage the organs responsible for sperm production in men.
Currently, there is no conclusive evidence lead is carcinogenic (cancer causing).
Children can be exposed to lead during pregnancy. Children are also susceptible in their early years, as they tend to spend time in areas that can easily be contaminated such as floors and soil.
If exposed to the same amount of lead, children will absorb five times more lead into their body than adults.
Children are more susceptible to the effects from lead because:
Long-term exposure to low levels of lead may be associated with:
Lead exposure can cause hearing difficulties and affect the nervous system outside the brain. These effects are most likely not reversible.
At high blood lead levels effects may include:
In some cases, lead levels may need to be lowered by treating with drugs, which can bind to lead and help the body eliminate it.
Humans do not need lead for any bodily function.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises that:
For further information on the health effects from lead exposure, contact SA Health's Scientific Services on (08) 8226 7100.