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Lead Poisoning

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The best way to deal with lead is to avoid lead exposure in the first place. The number of people in the United States who have elevated blood lead levels has decreased dramatically since lead was eliminated from house paints, gasoline, water pipes, and other household products, and because of the close monitoring of lead in industry.

Screening of children and occupational screening of adults is used to identify and guide treatment of lead poisoning. The most common treatment is to identify the source of the lead and eliminate or minimize further exposure. This may include measures such as wet mopping living areas frequently and flushing water from the tap before drinking if lead pipes are used. Lead abatement of a house may be necessary in some cases. This is the process of methodically removing lead paint or other lead sources from a building or area and is usually performed by a trained professional. Do not attempt to remove lead-based paint yourself – you are likely to endanger yourself and your family.


When a child's blood lead level is greater than or equal to 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) but less than 45 mcg/dL, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the child's parents or guardians be educated about the dangers of lead exposure and the child's home and other places where the child spends time should be examined for a source of lead. Once identified, the source of the lead must be removed from the child's environment and the child's blood lead level re-tested.

For children with blood lead levels greater than 45 but less than 70 mcg/dL, the CDC recommends chelation therapy. Chelation therapy is a treatment that rids the body of lead by introducing agents to which lead binds and is then carried out of the body in the urine.

Lead levels greater than 70 mcg/dL are considered a medical emergency. Children will be hospitalized and receive aggressive chelation therapy. In this case, chelation therapy involves administration of the drugs dimercaprol (also known as BAL) and CaNa2-EDTA.


Adults can tolerate higher blood levels than children. If they have occupational lead levels greater than 40 mcg/dL, OSHA requires that they be removed from further lead exposure and transferred to a low-lead job (called medical removal) until their lead level drops to a lower level. If several workers have significantly elevated lead levels and/or excessive levels persist, then lead abatement at the work site may be required.

When an adult exhibits signs and symptoms of a neurologic disorder (encephalopathy) due to lead exposure or when blood lead levels exceed 100 µg/dL, the CDC recommends chelation therapy.

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