LEAD: What is your child’s risk of lead poisoning?

Consider this:  A 4 year old starts having behavior problems in preschool.  The parents discover the child has an elevated blood lead level only after the teacher suggests a blood test for lead poisoning.  Neither their home nor the preschool has traces of lead  The parents don’t have jobs that would have lead exposure.  After ruling out the most common sources, it turns out that a beaded necklace the 4 year old likes to put in his mouth is the source. 

Or consider this:  Another parent discovers the small antique pewter bowl she was using to feed her baby cereal had high levels of lead only after a routine blood test.

Given the significant, largerly irreversible harmful effects of lead, and the fact that lead exposure is cumulative, identifying risk factors for lead poisoning is important.  While 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is still considered the “level of concern,”  studies have shown that significant neurological damage occurs at much lower levels – at around 2 micrograms per deciliter blood.  And it is widely recognized that there are no safe levels of lead.  The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 10 children have blood lead levels about 5 micrograms per deciliter blood – a level that may result in damage.  Read more here.

Could lead poisoning be affecting your child?  You can’t know without a laboratory test, but there are some risk factors:

  1. Was your home built before 1978?  Lead based residential paint was banned in 1978.  So, if your home was built before 1978, lead based paint might be present.  Paint in good condition generally does not pose a health hazard, but peeling or chipping paint must be addressed.  If you are remodeling, make sure you use lead safe work practices.  And even paint in good condition can generate lead contaminated dust at friction surfaces – like painted windows or doorways where surfaces rub together.

  2. Does your child regularly visit a structure built before 1978?  Daycare, churches, schools, grandma’s house – all of these buildings should be considered if your child spends any amount of time at them.

  3. Do you live near a highway or well traveled road?  Lead was used as a gasoline additive, and is found in dirt along highways and well traveled roads STILL.  This lead contaminated dirt can be tracked into our homes – 80% of dirt in our homes comes from outside (99% if you have a child like my son that LOVES to play in the dirt).  Consider taking off your shoes or invest in a good quality doormat to reduce this source of lead.  If you have a dirt walkway to your house, consider paving it, planting it with grass, or covering it with gravel or mulch or something.  Also wash your child’s hands regularly to reduce lead exposure.

  4. Do you or any adults in the home work in occupations that could result in lead exposure?  Potential occupations with lead exposure include:  construction work, demolition, scrap yards, metal miners, plumbers, welders, policeman/security officer (gun ranges), stain glass makers, jewelry makers, etc.  If you work in any of these, consider changing your clothes and shoes BEFORE you get in your car or enter your home.

  5. Does your child mouth toys or jewelry regularly?  Lead coatings are still found in toys, unfortunately, and also children’s jewelry.  Lead is also used as a stabilizer in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.  Mouthing can result in exposure.  Try to substitute items that don’t contain lead.  Also wash your child’s hands regularly to reduce exposure from toys and soil.

  6. Do you live near any industrial sources of lead?

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