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.
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:
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.
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.
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 Health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Parents.com, National Institutes of Health Medline Plus Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Parents.com