That even today, nearly a quarter of a million children in the US have blood lead levels high enough to cause significant damage to their health. And this is based upon an action level of 10 ug lead per dL of blood. Studies in the last 10 years show that blood lead levels significant lower cause permanent health problems, so the number of at risk kids is actually greater.
Children with elevated blood lead levels can suffer damage to the brain and nervous system. They can develop behavior and learning problems, such as learning disabilities, decreased intelligence, speech problems, language problems, poor muscle coordination, hyperactivity, slowed growth and other health problems.
Most of us dismiss the risk of exposure to lead. And yet. Lead exposure still occurs. In Nigeria right now, more than 400 kids have been killed from lead poisoning as a result of gold mining, and more than 30,000 people have been poisoned. A tragedy of horrific, immense proportions.
Yet lead poisoning doesn’t really occur in the United States still. Yes, it still does, even if your kids don’t lick the paint on the walls. Take a family in Tennessee living in a rental house built before 1978. They have discovered that all 3 children have elevated blood lead levels – child that is 12 has a BLL of 14, child that is 11 has a BLL of 8 and child that is 7 has a BLL of 21.7.
Or take the story of 8 month old Oskar Ryan-Garrad. He didn’t lick the walls. He didn’t eat paint chips. He didn’t suck or swallow lead contaminated toys. He simply acted like any baby and crawled around his home – a home constructed in the early 1900s. An optional blood draw found dangerously high levels of lead in his blood.
A risk assessor found lead laden dust on the windowsills of Oskar’s home, and on the floor and porch where he played. And his dad, a house painter, had lead dust on his clothes.
Monday kicked of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, and it is a great time to talk about how to reduce lead exposure. You can take some simple steps to reduce lead.
- Wash your hands and get your kids to do so too! Easy, peasy step – washing your hands regularly with plain soap and water can reduce lead exposure. We pick up lead contaminated dust from lots of sources – washing it away means that we don’t get exposed.
- Leave those shoes outside. We track in the bulk of the dirt in our home from outside. And with that dirt comes lead, cadmium, pesticides and more. Leaving your shoes at the door means that the dirt and the lead and other nasty stuff doesn’t come inside. One study found the checking shoes at the door can reduce exposure to lead by as much as 65%.
- If your home was constructed before 1978, you may have lead based paint. Be careful of peeling and chipping paint – take care of it safely or at least make in inaccessible to kids. But even if your paint is in good condition, you can have lead contaminated dust. So make sure you wet wipe regularly and use a HEPA equipped vaccuum to keep dust bunnies down.
- If your water pipes are older, you may have lead solder present, or even lead pipes. You can test your water with a simple home test kit that you mail to a laboratory. If you do have lead in your drinking water, consider a filter designed to remove lead. If you suspect lead in your water, one thing is to flush your pipes before drinking when the water sits for more than 6 hours. Just wait until you feel that slight temperature change.
- If any adult in the home engages in an industry that results in lead exposure (construction, demolition, etc.), change your clothes and shoes before your come inside, and preferably before you get in the family car, so that you don’t bring lead contaminated dust home.
- Skip vinyl products. Vinyl needs to be stabilized, and metallic salts are usually used to stabilize vinyl. Lead is often used. It doesn’t matter if you don’t suck on your fake leather (vinyl) purse – handling it can result in transfer from your hands to your mouth, or from your hands to your kids to their mouths, or from the purse directly to your kids hands and then their mouths.
- Don’t give infants brass keys to soothe them. Brass can have lead added, and infants can be exposed as they mouth brass keeys.