September 20, 2021 Healthy Living

Protecting Your Child from Lead

As a parent of young children, or someone starting a family soon, you have plenty to think about. Make sure that lead safety is at the top of your list. Exposure to lead is a significant health threat to children, and the younger the child, the more at risk they are. Unborn babies are most vulnerable of all.

Lead is a toxic metal that can affect the brain, heart, kidneys, and blood cells. Children under six years old are at greater risk because their bodies are growing so quickly, and they’re more likely to put things contaminated with lead into their mouths. Pregnant mothers can also unknowingly be putting their unborn child at risk. Lead-based house paint has been banned since 1978, and you can assume that if your home was built before then it probably contains some lead paint, but even more recently-built homes could be unsafe. To be sure you’re protecting your child or newborn, contact your county health department for help with a home lead assessment.

Exposure to lead may not cause symptoms, so monitoring with appropriate testing is also essential to prevent the dangers of lead toxicity. It is recommended that children receive a lead level check at 12 months and again at 24 months. This can be ordered through your pediatrician’s office.

How to Prevent Lead Poisoning

The good news is that lead poisoning is entirely preventable. It’s not just the child’s house that could be unsafe. If a child spends a lot of time at grandparents’ homes or in a daycare facility, those could also be possible sources of exposure. Your state and local health departments can help you get information about testing your home for lead, and in some cases provide free home test kits to help determine your risk. If your home test is positive, there are steps you can take to reduce your child’s risk of exposure. Your local health department is a great source of information on this.

If you’re not sure whether your home has lead-based paint, take these precautions:

  • Be sure that your child does not come into contact with peeling paint or surfaces with old paint where a child might chew, such as window sills and door jambs. Even lead paint that does not appear damaged or defective can be dangerous and should be covered.
  • If you’re having renovation done, children and pregnant women should not be present until the area has been thoroughly cleaned, vacuumed, and wet mopped or wiped.
  • If there is chipping paint on walls or doors, create a physical barrier to prevent small chips or dust. Use duct tape or contact paper to cover the surface until it can be properly repaired.
  • Lead can be present in household dust and outside soil, so wash children’s hands and toys frequently. Remove shoes before entering the home to prevent lead-contaminated soil from being tracked in.
  • Floors, surfaces, and windowsills should be wet-mopped or wet-wiped every few weeks so that they remain free of lead dust.
  • If possible, have children play outdoors in grass, mulch, or wood chips instead of bare soil. Wash their hands after play, before meals, and before bed to rinse off any lead dust or dirt.
  • Be cautious of things manufactured in other countries that may contain lead, including medicines, food or candy, spices, cosmetics, and pottery.
  • Watch for recalls on toys and children’s products, and immediately remove from the home any that have been recalled.
  • When using tap water for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby formula, use only cold water, as hot water is more likely to contain higher lead levels. Any lead in your household water is likely from your plumbing, not from the water supply itself.
  • Encourage healthy eating habits to reduce the effects of lead, including foods high in vitamin C, iron, and calcium.

Blood Tests to Determine Lead Levels

Because a child with lead exposure often does not appear or feel sick, New York State requires that all children be tested twice for lead poisoning before age two. The goal of testing is to prevent problems before they occur and is particularly important for developing children of this age. Lead is found in dust, air, water, soil, and in some household products. That’s why it’s important to have your child tested regardless of whether you live in an older house. Your child’s health care provider is required to ask questions about the possibility of lead exposure until they reach the age of six. If there is a possibility of exposure, the provider should have the test repeated to be sure. Blood tests are often done with a simple finger stick, and they are considered preventative tests that are fully covered by your insurance with no fee.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Although a single high dose of lead could cause serious symptoms, it’s more likely that lead poisoning will build up in the body over a period of time. You might not see any obvious signs of poisoning, but even very-low exposure can affect a child’s mental development and cause harm to the body. The younger the child, the more vulnerable she or he is, and unborn babies are most vulnerable of all.

Signs of lead poisoning can include:

  • Behavior and attention problems
  • Problems in school
  • Hearing problems
  • Kidney damage
  • Reduced IQ
  • Slow body growth

Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Aggression
  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Developmental skill regression
  • Low appetite or energy
  • Reduced sensations

If your child is exposed to a very high level of lead, they could experience vomiting, staggering walk, muscle weakness, seizure, or coma.

As a parent of a young child, or parent-to-be, you should be alert and concerned about the presence of lead in your home or anywhere in your child’s environment. It’s also critical that expectant moms avoid exposure during pregnancy. Contact your county health department for information on home testing, and if you think your child may have been exposed to lead, consult with your child’s physician to determine whether they should be tested and what steps you need to take to protect him or her from further harm.

References:  New York State Department of HealthU.S. Food and Drug AdministrationParents.comNational Institutes of Health Medline Plus Centers for Disease Control and PreventionU.S. Food and Drug AdministrationParents.com

Dan Mussman
About Author

Dan joined CDPHP as a communications specialist in 2021, continuing a 15-year career as a writer, marketer, and media professional. His work as Creative Director for iHeartMedia was recognized by the American Advertising Federation and National Radio Mercury Awards. Dan is a regular volunteer with United Way and other community groups, and enjoys filling his free time with Adirondack hikes, playing guitar with friends, and capturing glimmer moments with his camera.

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