Lower Levels of Lead Can Still Harm Children
This month, a federal panel is asking the U.S. government to lower the cutoff standards for lead poisoning in children. Citing recent research that shows that even low levels of lead can be damaging to children, specialists urge the government to adapt the new definition, which could result in thousands more children being diagnosed with lead poisoning.
Although cases of lead poisoning have been dramatically reduced in recent years with the banning of lead in paint, toys, gasoline, and other products, specialists say that lead poisoning is still a risk.
The government banned lead in house paint in 1978, but half of the houses built before 1978 may still contain lead paint. This becomes a greater hazard when paint is chipping, flaking, or in bad repair, because young children may pick up paint chips or paint dust and put it in their mouths.
Lead paint is also a hazard when you are doing renovations on an older home, because tearing down walls and other construction work can disturb decades-old lead paint. Even if the lead paint in a home has been painted over, experts say that even the friction from opening and closing windows and doors can create lead dust, which eventually finds its way into children's mouths.
People may also be exposed to lead through lead-glazed pottery, imported jewelry, leaded crystal, and old furniture that has been painted with lead paint.
Although there are few cases of convulsions, coma, and death due to high levels of lead exposure today, lower levels of exposure can still be a problem. Low level lead poisoning can cause learning and behavioral difficulties and may lower a child's IQ.
Experts advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce the definition of lead poisoning from 10 micrograms to 5 micrograms.
Children under the age of 6 should be routinely tested for lead poisoning (at least once a year), especially if you live in a house that was built before 1978 and if that house has recently undergone renovations. Your child may not show immediate symptoms of lead poisoning, so a blood test is crucial.
If you are renovating a house built before 1978, use lead-certified contractors. If you plan to do it yourself, follow the EPA's safety guidelines for lead in homes. If you suspect your home has lead paint, you can take paint chips to a local lab to have them tested, and then follow through with lead abatement if needed.
Keep the house clean, wiping up dust from windowsills and floors, which will help prevent children from ingesting lead dust. Wash children's hands frequently, especially before eating. A healthy diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C can also help to prevent lead poisoning.
Read more about the EPA's guidelines on lead hazards in the home.