Lead poisoning (also known as plumbism, colica pictorum, saturnism, Devon colic, or painter’s colic) is a type of metal poisoning and a medical condition in humans and other vertebrates caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems. It interferes with the development of the nervous system and is therefore particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders. Symptoms include abdominal pain, headache, anemia, irritability, and in severe cases seizures, coma, and death.
Routes of exposure to lead include contaminated air, water, soil, food, and consumer products. One of the largest threats to children is lead paint that exists in many homes.Prevention of lead exposure can range from individual efforts (e.g., removing lead-containing items such as piping or blinds from the home) to nationwide policies (e.g., laws that ban lead in products, reduce allowable levels in water or soil, or provide for cleanup and mitigation of contaminated soil, etc.)
Elevated lead in the body can be detected by the presence of changes in blood cells visible with a microscope and dense lines in the bones of children seen on X-ray. No safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered—that is, there is no known sufficiently small amount of lead that will not cause harm to the body.