Given the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, many have felt like we’ve flashed back to the lead paint crisis decades ago. Along with those horrific memories, some may be wondering why city and federal officials have a minimum acceptable amount of lead to exist in our water when doctors across the world have repeatedly warned that there is no safe mount of lead.

Lead exposure is dangerous in that it can affect nearly every system in the body. Worse, these adverse effects can take place with no obvious symptoms. Too often lead poisoning is discovered when it is too late.

This is especially true for children under the age of six as they are highly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which has been shown to affect mental and physical development. According to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint physician who sounded an alarm regarding the city’s water crisis, “Lead is an irreversible, potent neurotoxin.”

Kids who appear to be healthy can appear so while having high levels of lead in their bloodstream. In fact, symptoms may not appear until many weeks, months, and sometimes even years after the exposure. This makes lead poison extremely hard to detect.

Pediatricians warn parents to look for developmental delays, learning difficulties, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness, and fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, and hearing loss, and have children tested if they suspect they’ve been exposed to lead.

“We care about lead so much because it impacts your cognition and your behavior,” Hanna-Attisha said. Aside from the developmental issues it can cause, lead poisoning has been linked to ADHD, impulsivity, and even criminality. And at extremely high levels, lead poisoning is fatal.

Experts remind everyone that lead affects individuals differently, though in almost all cases, every single organ system is impacted. And the damage is lifelong and irreversible. To learn more about lead poisoning and how to test lead blood levels in your children, contact your pediatrician today.