Lead Exposure and Health Effects in Pregnant Women and Children

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Donrawee Waeyeng
Supabhorn Yimthiang


            Lead is a heavy metal that contaminates the environment and everyday products. Lead has a serious impact on human health. Lead can enter the body through breathing, ingestion, absorption through the skin, and absorption through the placenta. Pre- and post-natal lead exposure in the mother presents a high risk to both the mother and the child. It will put the mother at risk of anemia, gestational hypertension, spontaneous abortion and also has a serious impact on a child's brain function and body growth. Numerous studies have shown the effects of lead on children’s health such as intellectual disability, delayed development, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, etc. The measurement of pre-natal lead levels from the umbilical cord of a child found that the blood lead levels ranged from 0.44 to 4.60 µg/dL, demonstrating a correlation with limited cognitive function, especially in boys aged 36 months. Moreover, children with blood lead levels below 10 µg/dL will have low Intelligence Quotient (IQ), learning problems, short stature, developmental delays, a lack of concentration and may have problems with social behavior when entering adulthood. According to research studies in Asia and Africa, lead exposure during pregnancy has severe effects on the mother and fetus. In Thailand, the data on the impact of blood lead levels of pregnant women is not available. However, there is evidence of lead contamination in the environment, occupational exposure to lead (both in the workers themselves and in their children), and exposure through living close to certain industrial sites.

             Studying the status of lead exposure in pregnant women, launching guidelines for the monitoring of lead exposure, and screening for lead exposure in pregnant women from the first trimester is very important to minimize the effects. Relevant agencies should establish guidelines for the screening of lead exposure in all pregnant women in Thailand. Alongside this, there should be the implementation of environmental lead assessment in the community, to prevent negative effects on the health of pregnant women, and severe effects on infants’ brains and nervous systems, including the occurrence of chronic diseases in the future.

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