Lead poisoning is a silent and sometimes invisible threat that affects children at a greater rate than adults. The Lehigh Valley area has the unfortunate honor of leading the state in the number of children under age 7 who had elevated blood levels of lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There is no safe lead blood-level in children, according to the CDC, and there is no way to correct the negative effects of lead exposure. Even small amounts of lead can build up in a child's system, causing damage over time. The lead attacks many organs, particularly the brain, and can cause devastating damage.
How are children exposed to lead? Some of the more common causes follow:
- In utero — lead can enter a baby's bloodstream while still in the womb if the mother is exposed.
- Paint and/or pipes — if you live in a home built prior to 1978 there could be lead in either paint or pipes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Sometimes pipes in new homes can still be dangerous if lead solder was used to connect the pipes. Lead paint, which is most often found on window sills in older homes, can pose a threat if a breeze blows dust from the paint into the home where it can land on a toy or breathed in directly,
- From soil — as paints break down from structures built before 1978 it can contaminate the soil. Never grow a garden that has been contaminated by lead. Some types of artificial turf or rubber playground surfaces also can contain lead.
- Toys — lead can be both in the paint and in the plastic itself. Sucking or chewing on the toy -- or getting lead on the hands -- can be enough to poison a child. Old toys, especially those with peeling paint, and cheaper toys and plastic jewelry are more likely to have lead. Check www.recalls.gov to see if a specific toy has been recalled.
WebMD recommends the following precautions if you suspect there is lead in your home:
- Keep your home clean. Try to control dust in your house. Regularly wipe it up with a wet sponge or rag, especially in areas where friction might create dust from paint, like drawers, windows, and doors.
- Don't track lead in from outside. Take off your shoes as you enter the house.
- Keep your child's hands clean. Many children who get lead poisoning transfer lead from their hands to their mouths. Get in the habit of washing your child's hands frequently.
- Wash toys, pacifiers, and bottles regularly. Anything that goes in your child's mouth needs to be clean.
- Eat a healthy diet. Children who eat healthier diets seem to absorb less lead than children who don't.
- Make sure your kids have the recommended lead tests. Since lead poisoning has no symptoms, it’s the only way to make sure that they haven't been affected. Routine testing is recommended for children younger than age 5. Ask your doctor about whether or not your older children should also be tested.
What harm does lead cause? The American Academy of Pediatrics reports even low doses of lead in children can lead to:
- Long-term cognitive disabilities
- Attention deficit disorders
- Behavioral problems
If you’d like to know for sure whether your family has been exposed and you don’t want to wait for a doctor’s appointment, you can order a Lead Exposure Profile test at HNL Lab Tests Direct. A board-certified physician will authorize you to have those tests performed by Health Network Laboratories (HNL), a reputable, accredited laboratory that meets the highest standards in laboratory testing. You will receive a laboratory requisition via email that you can bring with you to more than 50 patient testing locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
For home inspections and other questions, call Pennsylvania’s toll-free, Lead Information Line (1-800-440-LEAD) or visit the website here.