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The case of the caustic cop.

Lead poisoning is not limited to children living in slum housing, as is commonly assumed. Consider the bizarre case of the New York Police Department firing range instructor who sought medical care for his increasing irritability toward his colleagues, as well as his wife's infertility. These seemingly unrelated conditions were found to be the result of chronic lead poisoning, affecting the man's brain and decreasing his sperm count. The problem stemmed from faulty ventilation on the police firing range, causing the instructor to inhale fumes from innumerable puffs of pistol smoke. Each puff contained minute quantities of lead from the bullets.

Although lead paint is still an important source of lead poisoning in children, lead can be absorbed from lead solder either on copper water pipe connections or in cans. Improperly glazed pottery, and even soil contaminated by lead from old batteries and other lead-containing debris, are two other possibilities. (In Boston, the soil is being removed and replaced in some neighborhoods having a high incidence of lead poisoning among the local children.) Even newborns may show signs of lead poisoning because of childhood lead exposure of the mother, the lead having been stored for years in her bones. Only later will the lead be absorbed into her bloodstream because of the chemical changes of pregnancy.

Lead poisoning should always be considered as a possibility in the differential diagnosis of such childhood problems as hyperactivity, distractibility, and various emotional disturbances. Blood tests for lead, however, will only indicate recent exposure. Long-term prior exposure, resulting in storage of lead in the bones, can lead to later symptoms of lead poisoning through, for example, nutritional deficiency. Dietary iron deficiency can cause increased absorption of lead into the blood from lead stored in the bones. Lifetime accumulation of lead in the bones can be detected by low energy x-rays of the tibia (shinbone), and the lead can be removed with drugs that free the lead from the bone structure and cause it to be excreted. This, plus repair of the ventilating system at his workplace, is how our aforementioned New York cop recovered from his condition. His city is now using a mobile lead detection van to examine children who may have lead poisoning.

The problem is still very much with us. Estimates place one in six American children as being at risk for lead poisoning in some way. Identifying the problem is essential if we are to prevent or minimize the damage to patients and their offspring and to remove the sources of lead in the environment.
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Title Annotation:police firing range found to be cause of lead poisoning; includes information on other sources
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Words:425
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