The Dangers of Lead Poisoning

Lead toxicity has been in the news lately.  In the U.S. city of Flint, Michigan, residential drinking water has been tainted with the heavy metal.  The situation occurred after the city changed its water source.  Local children have been tested with lead levels so high that the mayor has declared a state of emergency.

Exposure to lead (Pb) can be toxic to humans.  It can affect organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproduction and the nervous system.  It is particularly dangerous to children because it can inhibit both their mental and physical growth and development.  There is no known “safe threshold” of lead in the body where it will not cause harm.

Lead has been known to be dangerous since the Roman Empire, yet it has continued to be used pervasively in society.  It was used in cookware, cosmetics and plumbing.  It was used in gasoline until the 1980s.  It was used in paint until the 1970s; residents of older homes still have a risk of exposure.

Urine analysis is one of the best non-invasive methods for monitoring exposure to toxins.  Unfortunately, accurate measurement of heavy metals in urine has been problematic, because the metal ions can bind to proteins in the sample.  U.S. researchers have developed a method for detecting heavy metals in urine by collecting metal-bound nanoparticles.  The scientists used an Agilent ICP-MS system in their research.

Researchers in China have developed a method for measuring trace amounts of lead in environmental water and vegetable samples using graphene, a novel class of carbon nanostructures.  Tools used in the research included an Agilent vacuum manifold processing station and Agilent columns.

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