Lead Testing and Education
Children aged 12 months and 24 months need to be tested for exposure to lead in their surroundings. There are two ways to test the child’s blood: 1) by fingerstick (capillary) and 2) blood sample drawn from a vein, usually in the arm. These are performed at your child's medical office during well-child visits or upon request. If there is an elevated lead level > 5, a home visit to inspect for lead can be arranged.
Where can lead be found?
Lead is a metal that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust, but human activity — mining, burning fossil fuels, and manufacturing — has caused it to become more widespread. Lead was also once used in paint and gasoline and is still used in batteries, solder, pipes, pottery, roofing materials, and some cosmetics. Lead-based paints for homes, children’s toys, and household furniture have been banned in the United States since 1978. But lead-based paint is still on walls and woodwork in many older homes and apartments. Most lead poisoning in children results from eating chips of deteriorating lead-based paint. Lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures, and copper pipes soldered with lead can release lead particles into tap water. Lead solder in food cans, banned in the United States, is still used in some countries.
Lead sometimes can also be found in:
- Soil. Lead particles from leaded gasoline or paint settle on soil and can last years. Lead-contaminated soil is still a major problem around highways and in some urban settings. Some soil close to the walls of older houses contains lead.
- Household dust. Household dust can contain lead from lead paint chips or from contaminated soil brought in from outside.
- Pottery. Glazes found on some ceramics, china, and porcelain can contain lead that can leach into the food served or stored in the pottery.
- Toys. Lead is sometimes found in toys and other products produced abroad.
- Cosmetics. Tiro, an eye cosmetic from Nigeria, has been linked to lead poisoning.
- Herbal or folk remedies. Lead poisoning has been linked to greta and azarcon, traditional Hispanic medicines, as well as some from India, China, and other countries.
- Mexican candy. Tamarind, an ingredient used in some candies made in Mexico, might contain lead.
- Lead bullets. Time spent at firing ranges can lead to exposure.
- Occupations. People are exposed to lead and can bring it home on their clothes when they work in auto repair, mining, pipe fitting, battery manufacturing, painting, construction, and certain other fields.
Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.
There is treatment for lead poisoning, but taking some simple precautions can help protect you and your family from lead exposure before harm is done.
- Wash hands and toys. To help reduce the hand-to-mouth transfer of contaminated dust or soil, wash your children’s hands after outdoor play, before eating, and at bedtime. Wash their toys regularly.
- Clean dusty surfaces. Clean your floors with a wet mop and wipe furniture, windowsills, and other dusty surfaces with a damp cloth. A phosphate-based cleaning solution will help, too.
- Remove shoes before entering the house. This will help keep lead-based soil outside.
- Run cold water. If you have older plumbing containing lead pipes or fittings, run your cold water for at least a minute before using it. Don’t use hot tap water to make baby formula or for cooking.
- Do not store food in open cans or pottery containers.
- Prevent children from playing on the soil. Provide them with a sandbox that’s covered when not in use. Plant grass or cover bare soil with mulch.
- Eat a healthy diet. Regular meals and good nutrition might help lower lead absorption. Children especially need enough calcium, vitamin C, and iron in their diets to help keep lead from being absorbed. Examples: Cheese, Eggs, Fruit, Greens, Lean Meat, Milk, Potatoes, Raisins.
- Keep your home well-maintained. If your home has lead-based paint, check regularly for peeling paint and fix problems promptly. Try not to sand, which generates dust particles that contain lead. Clean up paint chips – inside and outside the home.
Children do not tolerate elevated lead levels as older children and adults do. Symptoms to look for:
- Developmental delay
- Learning difficulties
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sluggishness and fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Hearing Loss
- Eating things, such as paint chips, that are not food (pica)
Lead Poisoning Symptoms in Newborns
Babies exposed to lead before birth might:
- Be born prematurely
- Have lower birth weight
- Have slowed growth
Lead Poisoning Symptoms in Adults
Although children are primarily at risk, lead poisoning is also dangerous for adults. Signs and symptoms in adults might include:
- High blood pressure
- Joint and muscle pain
- Difficulties with memory or concentration
- Abdominal pain
- Mood disorders
- Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm
- Miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth in pregnant women
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