Lead poisoning is a serious problem in children. It is estimated that 900,000 children ages 1 to 5 have an elevated blood lead level. The human body absorbs lead because it cannot tell the difference between lead and other minerals such as calcium that are nutritionally important. Elevated lead levels may affect the neurologic system such as learning problems, hyperactivity, poor muscle strength, and seizures. It may also cause abdominal pain, constipation, and kidney disease.
Children are exposed to lead in several ways:
- Paint. Lead paint has been banned for use in residences since 1978. Older homes, especially those built before 1960, are at increased risk for having lead paint. Peeling paint chips, dust from window and door sills, and soil contaminated from exterior lead paint are possible sources of lead. The use of lead paint on children's toys and furniture was also banned in 1978, but toys made abroad may still contain lead paint.
- Water. Lead was used in pipes, solder, and fixtures until 1988.
- Food cans. Lead solder has been used to seal food cans. Although this practice was banned in the United States in 1995, lead solder may potentially still be found in food cans imported to the United States.
- Pottery and cookware. Some pottery and ceramic ware have been glazed with lead and may leach into food.
- Avoid having any chipped or peeling paint in the house. Lead-based paint is usually not harmful if it is not chipping or flaking.
- Clean your house regularly. Wet clean areas that potentially harbor lead dust. Use a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter.
- When doing home renovations, avoid having your children at home. You may want to have your home tested for the presence of lead paint and dust. If present, have lead abatement performed at the time of renovation.
- If you have lead in your pipes, let the tap run for 15-30 seconds before using it for drinking or cooking if the tap has not been used for 6 or more hours. Only use water from the cold tap for drinking, cooking, and preparing formula.
- Have your child play in grassy areas. Dirt may contain lead and sticks to hands.
- Never store food, especially acidic food, in cans.
- If you work in lead production or usage fields (e.g. firing range, battery plant) change clothes and shower before coming home.
- Keep your children healthy with good nutrition, particularly foods high in iron and calcium. A child whose body is lacking iron and calcium tends to absorb more lead.
We routinely test children at risk for lead poisoning at 9 months and 2 years.
For more information, call the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-LEAD, or visit the EPA web site at www.epa.gov/lead.
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