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Lead Poisoning: Keeping our children safe

Updated on October 2, 2012


Lead poisoning is a dangerous condition, caused by swallowing or inhaling lead. Based on figures obtained from the CDC web site, over one million children today are affected by lead poisoning, apx 24 million housing units have elevated levels of lead, which of over 4 million are homes to young children.
Our young children face the greatest risk. Their bodies easily absorb lead. They put lots of things into their mouths, some of which may contain lead.

Lead can affect adults, and even harm an unborn baby.

Sources of Lead

Lead paint, which a child may inhale or swallow as lead dust or chipped or peeling paint, is a major source. Children may also chew on surfaces with lead paint.

Homes built before 1978 may have lead paint inside or outside. Soil, water and food can also contain lead. Other sources include some imported vinyl miniblinds, some "folk" medicines and cosmetics, older toys, older furniture, imported candies and food, firearms with lead bullets, car batteries, radiators, some inks, etc.

Effects of lead poisoning

Most children show no symptoms. That's why regular lead screening is so important. But even a low level of lead in a child's body may harm the nervous system, including the brain, and interfere with growth, because it can interfere with the production of blood cells and the absorption of calcium for the growth of healthy bones, teeth, muscle contraction and nerve and blood vessel function. It can also make learning difficult.

A high lead level in the body can lead to coma, convulsions or even death.

Symptoms of lead poisoning

They may include:
- Stomachache or headache.
- Fatigue and/or irritability.
- Constipation.
- Poor appetite and/or frequent vomiting.
- Pale skin (due to anemia).
- Clumsiness, weakness and loss of recently learned skills (at higher lead levels)

The Signs and symptoms usually don't appear until there are dangerous levels accumulated. Symptoms may be mistaken for flu or other illness. Consult your health-care provider if you notice any of these symptoms.

Lead screening

Discuss your child's need for screening with his or her doctor. Screening for lead is the best first step toward preventing lasting harm from lead poisoning. In general, high-risk children need lead screening. A child may be at risk if he or she:
- lives in or regularly visits a home built before 1978.
- lives in or regularly visits a home built before 1978 that has recently been remodeled.
- has had a brother or sister with lead problems.

State or local officials may have other screening guidelines. Also, check CDC web site for additional screening information.

Talk to your child's doctor. Find out if screening is recommended for your child and when it should be done. For example, it may be recommended at ages 1 and 2, when blood levels are often at their highest in children exposed to lead.

Reduce your child's risk.

Take the following steps.
- Have your paint, water and soil tested by a professional if you suspect lead. Hire a certified professional to remove or cover lead paint, if found.
- Have your child wash his or her hands often.
- Provide 3 healthy meals a day, with foods high in iron, calcium and vitamin C, and low in fat.
- Don't let your child chew on (or put in his or her mouth) things that may be dirty or have lead paint on them.
- Clean weekly. Use a solution of warm water and cleaner to wet-mop floors and wipe windowsills and other surfaces. Use a HEPA filter when vacuuming carpets.
- Have children play in sandboxes, not on bare soil.


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