Lead poisoning is completely preventable. The two keys are:
- Creating an environment where children do not come into contact with lead.
- Identifying and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.
A parent’s first goal is to prevent lead exposure to children before they are harmed. This starts with parent’s identifying lead hazards in a child’s environment then controlling or removed those hazards safely.
How are children exposed to lead?
According to the CDC: “Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the most hazardous sources of lead for U.S. children. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. However, it is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem. Approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. More than 4 million of these dwellings are homes to one or more young children.”
Who is at risk?
Children under the age of 6 years old are at risk. They are growing rapidly, they are highly mobile and always exploring. They are very tactile and tend to pick up objects of all types. In some cases they will put their hands or objects which may be contaminated with lead dust into their mouths.
Children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk. Additionally, children of some racial and ethnic groups and those living in older housing are disproportionately affected by lead.
Why is lead bad for children?
Lead will replace healthy minerals in the bloodstream and impede a child’s red blood cells ability to carry oxygen through the body. The chance for damage to the nervous system and organs is dramatically increased. Possible complications include:
- Behavior or attention problems
- Failure at school
- Hearing problems
- Kidney damage
- Reduced IQ
- Slowed body growth
If you suspect you may have lead paint in your house, get advice on safe removal from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 800-RID-LEAD or the National Information Center at 800-LEAD-FYI. Another excellent source of information is the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-5323.
What else can be done to prevent exposure to lead?
- Determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where your child spends a large amount of time (e.g., grandparents or daycare). In housing built before 1978, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise.
- Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
- The stock answer here is to make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint. That is not good enough. Either hire a contractor who has EPA lead certification to remove the paint or get a painting respirator and do it yourself. Think whatever you want but leaving that paint on the wall is asking for major trouble.
Children and pregnant women should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. Especially renovation that removes lead paint or dust. They should not participate in activities that disturb old paint (.e.g. scraping or burning the paint off the walls) or in cleaning up paint debris after the work has been completed.
The CDC recommends that you create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources. They further recommend that until environmental clean-up is completed, you should clean and isolate all sources of lead. They also want you to close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls. We suggest that if at all possible, you temporarily leave the child with relatives or friends. I understand that it may be impractical and an imposition but it is a lot safer than possibly exposing children to the toxic effects of lead and lead dust.
How do you manage lead until it can be removed?
- Keep your home as dust-free as possible.
- Have everyone wash their hands before eating.
- Wash your children’s toys frequently to remove lead dust.
- Throw out old painted toys if you do not know whether the paint contains lead.
- Let tap water run for a minute before drinking or cooking with it.
- If your water has tested high in lead, consider installing an effective filtering device or switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking.
- Avoid canned goods from foreign countries until the ban on lead soldered cans goes into effect.
- If imported wine containers have a lead foil wrapper, wipe the rim and neck of the bottle with a towel moistened with lemon juice, vinegar, or wine before using.
- Don’t store wine, spirits, or vinegar-based salad dressings in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time, because lead can get into the liquid.
If someone has severe symptoms from possible lead exposure call 911 immediately. Symptoms include: irritability or behavioral problems, difficulty concentrating, headaches, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness or fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting or nausea, constipation, pallor (pale skin) from anemia, metallic taste in mouth, muscle and joint weakness or pain, or seizures.
For other symptoms that you think may be caused by lead poisoning, call your local poison control center. In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions. Even though using lead in building houses or in manufacturing has dropped significantly since 1978 there is still a lot out there, and it is a legitimate home health and safety hazard.
The CDC has created an outstanding infographic for the signs and prevention of lead paint poisoning. Please click the “Infographic” tab at the top of the page. After you look at the infographic please return to the top of the page and click the “Lead Paint Poisoning Video” tab to watch their outstanding video on preventing lead paint poisoning.
The following Infographic was created by the CDC. Click to get this infographic from the CDC website.
Please return to the top of the page and click the “Lead Paint Poisoning Video” tab to watch Parents Magazine outstanding video on Lead Poisoning Prevention.
Watch this excellent video from Parents Magazine – Baby Care Basics: What is Lead Poisoning?