Lead pollution occurs when lead is introduced into the atmosphere in such quantities that adversely affect the environment. Lead is a highly toxic metal found in the earth’s crust. Because of its abundance, low cost, and physical properties, lead and lead compounds have been widely used in a variety of products including paint, ceramics, pipes, solders, gasoline, batteries, and cosmetics. Lead pollution is widespread because in the past, people were ignorant about the danger of lead poisoning and pollution. Besides, its cheap manufacturing cost resulted in its wide spread use for industrial purposes.
Lead pollution in the past primarily came from motor vehicles such as cars and trucks. This was because motor vehicles back then used gas containing lead. However, in recent times, lead pollution comes from lead smelters, metal processing plants, waste incinerators and lead-acid battery manufacturers. It also has to be noted that the most common sources of lead exposure in the United States are lead based paint used in old homes and constructions, contaminated soil, household dust, contaminated drinking water, lead crystal, and lead-glazed pottery.
Lead poisoning occurs in humans and animals through polluted air, accidental ingestion of pieces of lead paint, water contaminated with lead, and through contaminated soil. Lead, which is easily absorbed by the body, gets distributed throughout the body in the blood and also accumulates in the bones once it enters the body.
Lead poses very serious harm to humans as well as animals. Depending on the level of exposure, lead can adversely affect the nervous system, kidney function, immunity system, reproductive systems and the cardiovascular system. Lead exposure also affects the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. It can cause birth defects in unborn children. Extreme lead exposure can even kill a person if it is present in high quantities in the body. Lead in the body can damage internal organs and damage the brain and nervous system. It can cause a variety of neurological disorders such as lack of muscular coordination, convulsions and coma. Lead exposure can also retard a child’s mental development and behavior and hinder hand-eye coordination and lower reaction time. Chronic lead exposure in adults can result in increased blood pressure, decreased fertility, cataracts, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, and memory or concentration problems.
Since 1980, federal and state regulations have helped to bring down lead pollution to substantial levels. The Environment Protection Agency is entrusted with the obligation to check lead pollution. The Clean Air Act requires the Environment Protection Agency to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six criteria pollutants, of which one is lead. The Environment Protection Agency works with partners at the state, local, and tribal levels to meet these standards. The Environment Protection Agency’s regulatory efforts have succeeded in bringing down lead pollution particularly that caused from the automotive sector.