Know the Risks for Children: Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

Did you realize your dream of raising your family in an older home or urban area with “character”?

Do you have or oversee children in a school or daycare built before 1978?

Are you concerned about the health and welfare of kids living in older, disadvantaged (and often industrial) areas of your community?

Then you need to be concerned about lead poisoning.

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 20-26, 2013

Prevent lead poisoning. Get your home tested. Get your child tested. Get the facts!

Lead Poisoning Prevention WeekRates of childhood lead poisoning have fallen dramatically over the past few decades after the removal of lead from gasoline, yet it is still considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children, with approximately half a million U.S. children having elevated blood lead levels. Children under age 6 are most at risk for lead poisoning and its effects due to their rapidly developing bodies and brains and their tendency to put things in their mouth. According to Dolores Weis, Executive Director of Improving Kid’s Environment (IKE), an Indiana-based non-profit focused on reducing environmental health threats for children, contamination with just a small amount of lead can lead to permanent, lifelong health issues including behavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity), slowed growth, hearing problems, and aggressive patterns of behavior. These are real and serious issues with effects felt across our society:

  • Childhood lead poisoning can reduce IQ levels by 4-7 points and these deficits have been shown to persist through adulthood – meaning more kids needing special help to succeed in school and more adults who may struggle finding work in today’s high-skill economy
  • Significant data now shows a strong correlation between childhood lead levels and adult violent crime rates, both across the U.S. and internationally – elimination of leaded gas has had a significant impact on reducing crime rates over the past 30 years

A Legacy of Contamination

Peeling paint lead hazardThe biggest source of ongoing childhood lead poisoning is lead-based paint. “We have a legacy that must be addressed – the legacy of deteriorating lead-based paint” says Weis. And, as outlined in two videos produced by IKE and WFYI, central Indiana’s public TV station (with support from the Indiana and Marion County Public Health Departments), this is not just an issue for blighted neighborhoods, but is also a real risk for middle and higher-income families renovating an older home. These videos make the issue very clear and real and are worth the 15 minutes viewing time.

Contaminated soil is also a major source of childhood lead poisoning. “Lead dust gets into the soil around homes from paint on the house, windows and porches and children ingest the lead when playing in the yard or when leaded soil is tracked into the house on shoes” say Weis. Improving Kid’s Environment has received several EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) grants to do home lead testing and repairs and Weis notes that the highest soil lead levels are along the edges – or dripline – of houses, and close to roads where decades of leaded gas emissions have built-up. But it is important to be aware that lead contamination can be found in a variety of sources including those below.

Lead Exposure Sources:

Paint in homes, schools and daycares built before 1978.

Older painted playground equipment.

Water pumped through leaded pipes.

Imported items including clay pots and painted toys.

Certain consumer products such as candies, make -up and jewelry.

Certain imported home remedies.

What can you do?

According to the CDC, “stopping a child’s exposure to lead from leaded paint, house dust, or any other source is the best way to prevent the harmful effects of lead.” Testing young children at high risk for lead poisoning is one important step and the CDC has a short checklist to help parents assess the risk to their family. Ideally testing should happen by age 1 or 2. However, there are a number of steps parents can take to minimize potential lead exposure:

  • Talk to your state or local health department about getting your home/paint lead tested
  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration
  • Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components
  • Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint
    • Close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls and apply temporary barriers such as contact paper or duct tape, to cover holes in walls or other sources of lead
  • Wash children’s hands, pacifiers and toys often
  • Use only cold water to drink and prepare food or baby formula
  • Do not use containers, cookware or tableware to serve or store food that are not certified lead-free
  • Prevent children from playing in bare soil around your home
    • Plant shrubs next to the home and cover exposed soil with grass or mulch
  • Teach children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors
  • Pregnant women and children should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation
  • Ensure that home renovation contractors are lead-safe certified and follow lead safe work practices

Finally, if your family has been contaminated with lead or you are concerned about possible exposure, make sure your children are eating frequent well-balanced meals containing rich sources of iron, calcium and vitamin C which together can help reduce the absorption and harmful effects of lead. This CDC brochure provides more detail on how a healthy diet and protect your children.

For more information on Improving Kid’s Environment’s efforts to alleviate health risks to children – or to make a needed donation for this important work – please visit IKE’s home page.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


8 Responses to “Know the Risks for Children: Lead Poisoning Prevention Week”

  1. I’ve never been so happy that I built my own home.

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