Lead Poisoning

What is lead poisoning?

Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to lead.  There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), the reference level at which the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends public health actions be initiated.  Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body.  Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable.  The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.

How are my children becoming exposed?

Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in the 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.

What can I do?

1.  Get your child tested.   Even children who appear healthy may have high levels of lead.  You can not tell if a child has lead poisoning unless you have him or her tested.  Your local health department offers this service.

2.  Keep it clean.  Clean floors and window sills with a solution of powdered dishwasher detergent and water.  Most multi-purpose cleaners will not remove lead in ordinary dust.  Children can swallow lead or breathe lead contaminated dust if they play in dust or dirt and then put their fingers or toys in their mouths, or if they eat without washing their hands first.

3.  Reduce the risk from lead paint.  Make sure your child does not chew on anything covered with lead paint, such as window sills, cribs, playpens or toys.

4.  Don’t try to remove lead paint yourself.  Families have been poisoned by scrapping or sanding lead paint because these activities generate large amounts of lead dust.  Lead dust from repairs or renovations of older buildings can remain in the building long after the work is completed.

5.  Don’t bring lead dust into your home.  If you work in construction, demolition, painting, with batteries or automotive repair or if your hobby involves lead you may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes.

6.  Get lead out of your drinking water.  Most well or city water does not naturally contain lead.  Water usually picks up lead inside your home from household plumbing that is made with lead materials.  Let your water run for 2 minutes before using to flush out any possible lead in the pipes.

7.  Eat right.  A child who gets enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead.  Foods rich in iron include eggs, lean red meat, and beans.  Dairy products are high in calcium.