Lead Poisoning; Are Your Children At Risk? - The Risks, And How To Guide On Preventing Lead Poisoning In Your Children.
In recent years, a surge of governmental recalls have been issued regarding toys, jewelry, and other household products that have been detected to contain dangerous levels of lead.
Just to get an idea of what products were recalled, I went to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Website, and there were literally hundreds of items recalled due to their high lead content.
Everything from toys, shoes, jewelry and furniture was listed, in addition to their recall date, how many had already been recalled, as well as the reason for said action.
Astonishingly enough, the majority of the recalls included children's items!
While such a thought can be a cause of panic for many; and understandably so; this is not the purport of this article.
The intent is to simply inform parents and guardians of the risks of lead poisoning, in addition to providing an how to guide on preventing lead poisoning in their children.
Lead Poisoning - The Risks To Your Children.
According to the National Safety Council in the U.S., the problems and risks included in lead poisoning among children include:
- Learning disabilities
- Attention deficit disorders
- Behavioral problems
- Stunted growth
- Impaired hearing
- Kidney damage
According to the report, in February 2006, when a 4-year-old Minnesota boy swallowed a lead charm that came with a pair of sneakers, he was hospitalized with a lead level of 180 ug/dL and died four days later (The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported on this same incidence in full detail at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm55d323.pdf).
The fact that a sufficient amount of ingested lead can actually prove fatal, raises the question, "How much is too much?"
Toys By Melissa And Doug and Green Toy - Safe Play For Your Little Ones
* How Much Is Too Much?
While it is commonly agreed upon that there is no "safe" level of lead exposure, research has suggested that even levels that fall under some government-issued toxicity levels may still cause a considerable amount of harm.
According to an August 15th, 2007 article on WebMD.com, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) does not recommend taking action unless a child's blood-lead level exceeds 10 micrograms/dl, *Dr. John Rosen M.D., Lead poisoning expert and Director of the Lead Poisoning Clinic at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, New York City; feels this level is far too high.
WebMD.com went on to quote Dr. Rosen as saying, "There are now seven peer-reviewed articles in the medical literature that indicate the major loss of IQ occurs in children at blood-lead levels of less than 7.5 micrograms/dl."
He continued, "A threshold of 10 is no longer protective of children. ... I would very strongly suggest lowering the threshold to 5, based on abundant data in the last five years."
The booklet, Lead Alert - Painting Your Home? concurs with this evaluation. It brought to light:
- Even relatively low levels of lead found in the blood can adversely affect the behavior and intellectual development of young children.
- The risk to children under five years of age is particularly acute, due to their still developing nervous systems. Astonishingly, young children absorb up to 50 percent of the lead that enters their bodies, in contrast to adults who absorb about 10 percent.
- If a child eats a leaded-paint flake that's even the size of a thumbnail, the level of lead in his or her blood will remain significantly elevated for several weeks!
* Sources of Lead Poisoning And How To Counteract Them.
The research has shown that the major source of lead contamination is lead-based paint and water. These aren't the only sources however.
According to the CDC, other lead contaminate sources include the list below, but are not limited to:
*Wording in italics and quotation marks are directly quoted from the CDC Website.
- Folk or Herbal Medicines - "Lead has been found in some traditional (folk) medicines...Lead and other heavy metals are put into certain folk medicines on purpose because these metals are thought to be useful in treating some ailments". -
How To Counteract: Avoid folk or herbal medicines that are known to contain lead (the CDC provides a short listing).
- Toys - Which are contaminated by paint and plastic - "Paint: Lead may be found in the paint on toys. Plastic: The use of lead in plastics has not been banned. It softens the plastic and makes it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape. It may also be used in plastic toys to stabilize molecules from heat. When the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms a dust."
How To Counteract: Regularly check with the CDC for toy recalls and remove said toy immediately. Opt for safer toys such as the Melissa and Doug, or Green Toy brand.
Interestingly though, John Benitez MD, associate professor of pediatric and environmental medicine at the University of Rochester, N.Y., told WebMD.com, "Parents need to know it is not an acute problem."
He continued, "If a kid just touches and plays with a lead painted toy, it is not a problem. But if that child sits and chews on it for weeks and months and absorbs lead -- that becomes a risk."
Many parents however, play it safe and remove the toy altogether.
- Toy Jewelry -While simply wearing toy jewelry made from lead has not been known to cause any harm, placing the jewelry in the mouth or swallowing it can be fatal (Refer back to above example of the four year olds fatality).
How To Counteract: Regularly check with the CDC for toy jewelry recalls, never allow your child to place toy jewelry in their mouths, when in doubt, leave it out.
- Water - "Lead still can be found in some metal water taps, interior water pipes, or pipes connecting a house to the main water pipe in the street." Especially is this so when the home is an older one. "Lead found in tap water usually comes from the corrosion of older fixtures or from the solder that connects pipes. When water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply."
How to Counteract: With the help of your local water authority, find and eliminate the source of the lead. While waiting for the matter to be rectified, it has been suggested to let cold water from such pipes run for 30 to 60 seconds before you drink it. Regarding hot water, it should not be used for drinking and cooking - especially in the case of preparing infant formula.
- Food- Lead can contaminate food that has been prepared in lead-glazed ceramics. This is due to the fact that lead can leach out while the dishware is heated or exposed to some fruits and vegetables (i.e.tomato sauce; orange, tomato, and other fruit juices; wine; and vinegar) .
How To Counteract: Prepare, serve, and store food in cook/dishware that has been shown to be lead-free.
- Lead-Based Paint - Especially found in older homes built before 1978; as a norm, lead-based paint was used before awareness of its potential harm was raised.
How To Counteract: The CDC offers some great suggestions:
- Talk with your state or local health department regarding lead testing of the paint and dust in your home.
- Ensure that your child doesn't have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces contaminated with lead-based paint.
- Remove children from homes that were built before 1978 during renovations - A word of caution: Avoid the urge to remove the paint yourself. The scrapping and sanding of the lead-based paint will only fill the area with lead-laden dust. When inhaled, it can cause some major problems.
- Create barriers between the play/living area and the lead contaminated sources.
- Regularly wet-mop floors and window components, as well as regularly wash children's hands and toys - household dust is a major source of lead, so parents should keep children's hands washed, their toys washed, as well as window components and floors clean.
- Prevent children from playing in bare soil, instead provide them with sandboxes to play in - instead of allowing children to play in bare soil (which can contain traces of lead), parents should either plant grass, or cover soil with wood chips, grass seed, or mulch. A sandbox is another great alternative, make sure it's covered when not in use.
In retrospect, a 1992 edition of In Health magazine stated, “Intact paint isn’t a danger, though peeling paint and paint dust are. . . . Check your home inside and out for peeling, looking especially around wooden door and window frames, where weather and friction tend to grind and chip painted surfaces.”
* Signs And Symptoms Of Lead Poisoning In Children.
Once you've educated yourself on the risks and sources of lead poisoning, what are the symptoms of lead poisoning in children.
According to the Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia, some of the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:
- Abdominal pain
- Attention problems
- Loss of developmental skills
- Low appetite
- Low energy
- Slow growth
In the event you suspect lead poisoning in your child, contact their physician immediately. By way of a blood test it can be determined whether your child has been effected, followed immediately with the necessary treatments.
Fortunately, once the source of the exposure to lead is removed, the lead levels in the blood greatly decrease.
* Lead Poisoning - Scary, Yet Entirely Preventable.
As diligent and dutiful parents, it is our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our children. To highlight the need for public awareness concerning this grave situation, at present, 1 in 20 preschoolers in the U.S. alone has high levels of lead in his or her blood.
Fortunately, according to a 1992 issue of Newsweek, the then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services was quoted as saying, "Lead poisoning is entirely preventable."
"Enough is now known about the sources and pathways of lead exposure and about ways of preventing this exposure to begin the efforts to eradicate permanently this disease," noted the CDC.
Therefore, while lead poisoning and the risk it presents our children can be overwhelming, even down right scary, educating yourself on the risks, the sources, as well as the signs and symptoms of said disease, will equip you with the tools to prevent lead poison in our children.
With that said, get proactive by reading labels, asking questions, keeping up with recalls listed on the CDC Website, paying attention to your child's health, and listening to your instincts.
The bad news: our children may be at risk for lead poisoning. The good news: it is preventable.
*(as well as a host of credentials - Chief, Division of Environmental Sciences, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore; Professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine)
copyright © 2010