Blog post: Lead Poisoning Prevention
Each year, National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (NLPPW) seeks to increase lead poisoning prevention awareness in an effort to reduce childhood exposure to lead. The number one thing people should know about lead exposure is that it’s 100% preventable. There are many ways parents can reduce children’s exposure to lead in their environment, and prevent its serious health effects.
Lead is a toxic metal harmful to human health if inhaled or ingested. Young children, infants, and fetuses are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Exposure can seriously harm a child’s health by causing damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected. At least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. In addition, there are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.
Despite the overall decline of blood lead levels over time, lead exposure remains a significant public health concern for some children because of persistent lead hazards in their environment. Childhood lead exposure is especially prevalent in low income communities, and racial-ethnic minority groups. Homes built before 1978, may have lead-based paint lingering even under layers of newer paint. If the house has been recently renovated or is currently undergoing renovation, or the paint is not well maintained, then risks are present. Peeling, chipping, cracking, deteriorating or damp paint is a hazard, and needs immediate attention. As time goes by the paint will deteriorate, and the dust that forms will contain both the lead and non-lead paint. Children are then exposed by breathing in the lead dust, putting their hands or other lead-contaminated objects in their mouths, swallowing lead dust that settles on food, food preparation surfaces, floors, window sills, and other places, or by eating paint chips that contains lead. The older the home, the more likely it is to contain lead paint.
Lead can also be found in children’s products, on and in toys, whether on exterior paint or on interior toy components, and in particular or costume jewelry and other inexpensive items imported from China and a few other countries where lead is not adequately regulated. Lead can be found in soil or dirt, as a result of leaded gas emissions from passing cars, buses and trucks, before leaded gas was banned in the US during the 1980s, or as a result of old lead paint falling off the exterior of homes. Another common source of exposure is lead from drinking water. Lead in water originates from lead plumbing materials–including faucets, pipes, fittings and the solder that holds them all together–corroding and releasing lead into the water. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to be a cause of concern. Although Congress banned lead water pipes 30 years ago, between 3.3 million and 10 million older ones remain, primed to leach lead into tap water by forces as simple as jostling during repairs or a change in water chemistry. Pipes in newer homes are also at risk for lead because of soldering used to join copper pipes.
EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual water quality report called a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) for their customers on a yearly basis. Contact your water utility if you’d like to receive a copy of their latest report, or check their website. Water systems are required to replace lead service lines if a water system cannot meet the EPA’s Lead Action Level of 15 parts per billion. With that being said, even if a city’s water report passes lead testing, there could still be lead in your home’s water taps. If your water comes from a household well or other private water supply, check with your health department, or with any nearby water utilities that use ground water, for information on contaminants of concern in your area. If you have lead in your water, use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. Boiling water does not remove lead from water, and can increase its concentration. Regularly clean your faucet’s screen (also known as an aerator). Although flushing your pipes by running your tap can partly reduce hazards, the best way to eliminate the risks is to install a water filter certified to remove lead. Not all water filters remove lead, so make sure they are tested and certified to NSF/ANSI 53 and 58 standards. Visit NSF.org for a listing, or check out EWG’s water filter buying guide.
The best way to identify lead sources in your home is to have it tested. There are various ways of testing your home. From hiring an outside contractor to come into the home and take samples, or by purchasing a home test kit. Any laboratory can perform testing, but it should be certified by the EPA NLLAP program to ensure that the results are accurate and meet the EPA requirements. Understanding what the results mean is also a concern for many homeowners, so knowing that the laboratory kit provider or the contractor will be available to answer questions is also helpful.
Remember that there is no known safe level of lead exposure. Even low levels of childhood lead exposure may cause lifelong health, learning, and behavior problems. If you have concerns about your child’s potential exposure to lead, please let your pediatrician know, and request a blood lead test. Ask your doctor to test your child for lead at age 6 to 14 months, and again at age 22 to 26 months. Every child, should be tested twice by the age of two.
Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust in your home for lead: link.
Home exposure sources: link.
National Center For Healthy Housing: link.
Blood level tests for children | programs: link.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: link.
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention: link.
Lead in drinking water: link.
The National Lead Information Center hotline: 1-800-424-LEAD
SLGi Home test kits: link.