Lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms. Frequently this serious and sometimes fatal condition goes unrecognized. Protecting children from lead exposure is vital to good health that will last a lifetime. But as of today, a safe blood lead level in children has not been determined.
Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect their mental and physical development. The effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected. And, at very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.
Lead poisoning in children
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “there are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).”
Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect a child’s progress in school, a child’s ability to pay attention, and their IQ.
Children under the age of six-years-old are at risk for a number of reasons.
One of the main reasons children get lead poisoning is because they tend to put objects or their hands — which may be contaminated with lead dust — into their mouths.
The CDC reports, approximately 24 million homes have deteriorated lead-based paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. Today, more than 4 million of these dwellings are homes to one or more young children.
Children living at or below the poverty line usually live in these older dwellings. That puts them at a greater risk of getting lead poisoning, as well.
The most hazardous sources of lead for children are lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust. In the United States, lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. However, all houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. The paint’s deterioration is what causes the problem.
Other sources of lead include contaminated soil, water, and air. Additionally, people who do home renovations, work in auto repair shops, or work with batteries, may be exposed to lead.
Tips on how to prevent lead exposure
Taking some simple step to prevent lead poisoning can help protect yourself and your family. It is very important to prevent lead exposure to children before they are harmed.
The most important step is to stop children from coming into contact with lead. Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be identified, controlled, or safely removed.
Here are a few tips on how to reduce a child’s exposure from lead and avoid lead poisoning:
- It is important to determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where your child spends a large amount of their time — like their grandparents or a daycare center. In homes that were built before 1978, assume there is lead paint, unless you can determine otherwise.
- Regularly wash children’s toys and hands. Toys and a child’s hands can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil. Both are known lead sources.
- Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
- Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
- Create barriers between play and living areas and lead sources. You should clean and isolate all sources of lead until environmental cleanup is completed.
- Wet-mop floors on a regular basis. Be sure to wet-wipe window components regularly, as well. Household dust is a major source of lead; you should wet-mop floors and wet-wipe horizontal surfaces every 2-3 weeks.
- Prevent children from playing in bare soil. If you can, provide them with sandboxes instead. To help avoid lead exposure from the soil, plant grass on areas of bare soil or cover the soil with grass seed, mulch, or wood chips. Until the bare soil is covered, move the child’s play area away from bare soil and away from the sides of the house. And if you have a sandbox, be sure to cover the box when it’s not in use to prevent cats from using it as a litter box. That will help protect children from exposure to animal waste.
- Children and pregnant women should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. They should not participate in activities that disturb old paint or in cleaning up paint debris after work is completed.
- Close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls. You can also apply temporary barriers such as contact paper or duct tape, to cover holes in walls or to block children’s access to other sources of lead.
- Windowsills and wells can contain high levels of leaded dust; they should be kept clean. Take off shoes when entering the house to prevent bringing lead-contaminated soil in from outside.
Additional ways to reduce a child’s lead exposure
Here is a list of more ways to help reduce lead exposure from non-residential paint sources:
- Avoid using traditional folk medicine and cosmetics that may contain lead.
- Avoid using cookware, tableware, or containers to store or cook foods or liquids that are not shown to be lead free. Some tableware — mainly folk terra cotta bowls and plates from Latin America — may contain high levels of lead that can leach into food.
- Shower and change clothes after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products such as stained glass, making bullets, or using a firing range.
- Immediately remove recalled toy jewelry and toys from children.
- Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead. Most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house — not from the local water supply.
- Avoid eating candies imported from Mexico. Certain candies — like tamarindo candy jam products from Mexico — may contain high levels of lead in the wrapper or stick. Be cautious when providing imported candies to children
Lead exposure goes unrecognized
There’s no safe blood lead level in children. In addition, lead exposure can affect practically every system in the body.
Lead exposure is frequently unrecognized — it often occurs with no obvious symptoms. Lead can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs when it is absorbed into the body. Lead can also damage nerves, blood, and the kidneys.
Lead may cause learning disabilities, seizures, behavioral problems, and death. Some of the symptoms of lead poisoning may include tiredness, nausea, irritability, headaches, and stomachaches. Children who are suffering from lead poisoning might not show any symptoms.