Lead is a non-biodegradable, non-corrosive heavy metal which has been recognized as toxic for millennia. However, the effects of low exposures was recognized only recently. Lead has many uses including lead in petrol, paint, batteries, candles, crystal glass, cellular telephones, computers, television sets, pottery, ammunition, protective clothing, weights and tobacco. People are exposed to lead mainly through ingestion and inhalation and to a small degree, through dermal absorption.
Aside from lead poisoning, lead exposure also causes small increases in blood pressure especially in middle-aged and older people and can cause anemia. Exposure to high lead levels can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children and ultimately cause death. Exposure to lead is more dangerous for young and unborn children resulting in premature births, smaller babies, decreased mental ability in the infant, learning difficulties and reduced growth in young children.
This study estimates the burden of disease attributable to lead by sex and specific age groups in South Africa in 2000 using the comparative risk assessment methodology developed by the WHO. View the results. (pdf format, 301 kb)
Read more about research and policy on lead poisoning prevention in South Africa.