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Toxicology deals primarily with what types of hazards

Lead is, however, also used in many other products, for example pigments, paints, solder, stained glass, lead crystal glassware, ammunition, ceramic glazes, jewellery, toys and in some cosmetics and traditional medicines. Drinking water delivered through lead pipes or pipes joined with lead solder may contain lead. Much of the lead in global commerce is now obtained from recycling.

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Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight. People can become exposed to lead through occupational and environmental sources.

This mainly results from:. An additional source of exposure is the use of certain types of unregulated cosmetics and medicines. High levels of lead have, for example, been reported in certain types of kohl, as well as in some traditional medicines used in countries such as India, Mexico and Viet Nam.


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Consumers should therefore take care only to buy and use regulated products. Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because they absorb 4—5 times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source.

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This route of exposure is magnified in children with a psychological disorder called pica persistent and compulsive cravings to eat non-food items , who may, for example pick away at, and eat, leaded paint from walls, door frames and furniture. Exposure to lead-contaminated soil and dust resulting from battery recycling and mining has caused mass lead poisoning and multiple deaths in young children in Nigeria, Senegal and other countries.

Once lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones.

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The body stores lead in the teeth and bones where it accumulates over time. Lead stored in bone may be remobilized into the blood during pregnancy, thus exposing the fetus. Undernourished children are more susceptible to lead because their bodies absorb more lead if other nutrients, such as calcium or iron, are lacking. Children at highest risk are the very young including the developing fetus and the economically disadvantaged. Lead exposure can have serious consequences for the health of children. At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death.

Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioural disorders. At lower levels of exposure that cause no obvious symptoms lead is now known to produce a spectrum of injury across multiple body systems. Lead exposure also causes anaemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs.

The neurological and behavioural effects of lead are believed to be irreversible. In clinical practice, the occupational-environmental toxicologist must identify and treat the adverse health effects of these exposures. Occupational and environmental toxicology cases present unusually complex problems. Occupational and environmental exposure is rarely limited to a single type of molecule. Most workplace or environmental materials are compounds or mixtures, and the ingredients are often poorly described in the documentation that is available for physician review.

Moreover, although regulatory agencies in many countries have requirements for disclosure of hazardous materials and their health impacts, proprietary information exclusions often make it difficult for those who treat occupationally and environmentally poisoned patients to understand the nature and scope of the presenting illness.

Because many of these illnesses have long latency periods before they become manifest, it is often a matter of detective work, when patients finally present with disease, to ascertain exposure and relate it to clinical effect. Monitoring of exposure concentrations both in the workplace and in the general environment has become more common, but it is far from widespread, and so it is often very difficult to establish the extent of exposure, its duration, and its dose rate when this information is critical to the identification of the toxic disorder and its management.

Occupational toxicology deals with the chemicals found in the workplace. The major emphasis of occupational toxicology is to identify the agents of concern, identify the acute and chronic diseases that they cause, define the conditions under which they may be used safely, and prevent absorption of harmful amounts of these chemicals.

The occupational toxicologist will also be called upon to treat the diseases caused by these chemicals if he or she is a physician.


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Occupational toxicologists may also define and carry out programs for the surveillance of exposed workers and the environment in which they work. They frequently work hand in hand with occupational hygienists, certified safety professionals, and occupational health nurses in their activities. Regulatory limits and voluntary guidelines have been elaborated to establish safe ambient air concentrations for many chemicals found in the workplace. Governmental and supragovernmental bodies throughout the world have generated workplace health and safety rules, including short- and long-term exposure limits for workers.

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