Few Truths about Lead, a Potentially Dangerous Heavy Metal and 5 Ways to Stay Away from it

Heavy metals, we all have sometimes or other came across this term mostly in chemistry classes or labs, remember? What is a heavy metal? Google suggests a number of answers. But most recently the term ‘Heavy Metal’ has been defined as any metal or semi-metal with potential human or environmental toxicity, for example like Lead, Cadmium, Chromium, Mercury etc. Thus in a nutshell the substance which can post a threat to our life.

This is a guest contribution by Pradip Bhattacharya

So let us have some insight on Lead, a furious heavy metal, which is closely interlaced with our today’s lifestyle. 

Russian Chemistry Professor Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev published his periodic table in 1869, which states it as a metal with atomic number 82. Most of us have only this information about lead. 

But do you actually know how devastating LEAD is! It can affect every organ and system in our body. In humans, it is directly absorbed and distributed and acts as a slow poison. Its ability to inhibit the action of calcium is mostly the cause of dysfunction. Prolonged exposure and storage of lead in our body may cause
  • Nervous system and kidney damage. 
  • Learning disabilities and decreased intelligence. 
  • Speech, language and behavior problems. 
  • Poor muscle coordination. 
  • Decreased muscle and bone growth and hearing damage. 
  • Fertility problems (in both men and women). 
  • High blood pressure. 
  • Digestive problems. 
  • Nerve disorders. 
  • Memory and concentration problems. 
  • Muscle and joint pain and 
  • FINALLY, brain damage or even DEATH. 
This information is much like a journal; we read and forget, as we may feel that I am not a lab assistant or factory worker so not to worry as I am not exposed to any kind of lead. I am leading a sophisticated life traveling in cars, wearing designer clothes and eating just canned food. No worry but let me tell you this, everyone is exposed to a certain amount of lead through air, soil, household dust, food, drinking water and some consumer products specially Textiles. Let us discuss how it happens. 

Food: Traces of lead are found in almost all food. Airborne lead falls onto crops or soil which is directly absorbed by plant. Lead solder used in making cans or tins may also contaminate food. 

Cars: While visit to petrol pump we always see the unleaded petrol tank, yes if you don’t go for it then obviously you are contributing in lead distribution with your vehicle’s emission as in the past, motor vehicles were the biggest source of lead. 

Air Pollution: Blame it or accept it but the fact is that emissions, smelters and refineries are major contributor of lead poisoning which play a key role in air pollution. 

Water: The amount of lead in a natural water supply is very low, but it can enter in water supply through lead solder used in pluming or pipes. It is more likely to be found in soft or acidic water. Too new or too old pipes may contribute to lead distribution. 

From Paint: Remember the commercial of a Paint company where SRK says “blue ho ya pink PAPA TUM TAK kuch bhi harmful NAHIN pahunchnege DENGE”. We admire, but how many of us actually purchase lead free paints! 

Now some life style accessories: Any Bright golden or silver colored prints or dresses with beads, stones or sequins attract us especially when we shop for ladies & kids. They look really gorgeous in those. Again there may be lead concealed in those articles. Small kids may end up licking their dresses. You can imagine the disaster. Some common textile accessories may include glossy prints which are used in our daily life. The prints become very beautiful by adding the heavy metal lead. Yes, it is intentionally added to get bright, brilliant and lustrous design. The design may easily be dissolved into your perspiration or saliva and goes straightway to your stomach when you rub the product on your lips. 

Case histories:
While fishing out the information I found some tragic incidents, let me share those with you. 

The first case of lead poisoning was discovered in Australia in 1890. However the source of the lead was not traced until 1904. A big group of tourists was travelling to Alaska. The guide who escorted them contacted many different suppliers for provisions. He got a really good deal on canned food that he couldn't refuse. They set out on their journey and were never heard from again. Searchers never found any survivors. Years later someone decided to find out what happened. Bodies were found along with provisions. As it turned out, the cans had been sealed with lead solder. They had, in fact, all died of lead poisoning. 

Another furious incident revealed in china in 2008, A Manganese Smelting Plant which opened in May 2008 without the approval of the local environmental protection bureau, within 500 yards (meters) of a primary school, a middle school and a kindergarten. Fears of poisoning began to spread among villagers in early July when many children became susceptible to colds and suffered fevers and other ailments. Some 1400 children who live near the plant - or nearly 70 per cent of those tested - were found to have excessive lead in their blood. Lead poisoning can damage the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and memory loss. People were asked not to eat vegetables & drink water from local sources as crops and groundwater too contained traces of lead. 

It’s not very difficult to avoid lead in daily life. With little awareness it is easy to stay away from lead. 5 ways to stay away from this dangerous metal have been listed here.
  1. When purchasing canned food especially beverages it is always better to check the solder material or go for certified brands. 
  2. Use good quality water purifiers with capacity to extract the dissolved lead in water sources. 
  3. While painting your home chose lead free paints. 
  4. Try to avoid any bright colored prints when you are not going for up-market tested brands. 
  5. In our dress materials, bags, purses, toys and other commonly used accessories like car seats etc. It is always suggested to use branded leather or suede leather, which we believe have been tested. 
It’s a known fact that lead is harmful but many are not aware of the sources of lead. Let us take a promise to reduce the usage of lead so that we can gift a lead free life to our forthcoming generations.
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