One of the many things infants, toddlers, and young children have in common is their propensity for putting things in their mouths. If something can be picked up with those little fingers and hands, chances are it will eventually end up in the mouth for a thorough taste-test. For the most part, this oral investigation is harmless and helps emphasize the fact that some things taste good, others definitely don't. There are, however, a few instances where things that make their way into your child's mouth can lead to some serious health issues. Lead is one of those dangerous substances that can cause problems.
Lead is a highly toxic metal that, given exposure, can cause a wide variety of adverse health effects in both children and adults. Although much has been done in recent decades to alert people to the dangers of lead in the environment and their homes, as recent as 2004, the National Safety Council (NSC) estimated that more than four hundred thousand children under the age of six had elevated blood lead levels. Lead is a potent toxin and the NSC states that all it takes is for lead dust equivalent to a single grain of salt to register an elevated blood lead level in a child.
Although the dangers of lead in the environment have been known for decades and much has been done to eliminate it, it still exists in and around homes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the primary sources for lead exposure for most children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead contaminated dust, and lead contaminated residential soil. Although the federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, many homes and apartments built before 1978 still contain lead-based paint. The EPA notes the following sources of possible lead contamination in the home environment:
A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that 38 million housing units (40%) contained lead-based paint and that lead-based paint was present in 28% of childcare centers. Elevated levels of lead in the body can cause serious problems in both adults and children. However, children under the age of six are at particular risk because their brains and central nervous systems are still developing and they are the most likely to have the hand-to-mouth contact with lead. The EPA notes that children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:
Adults with exposure to lead can suffer from:
Lead is a particular danger to pregnant women and their babies. The NSC notes that lead is stored in the bone where it can remain for decades. Pregnancy can cause the lead (from previous childhood exposure) to be released from the bones where it can be easily transferred to the fetus since lead can cross the placenta.
If you suspect that your home may have lead hazards, the EPA recommends the following actions to reduce the risk to your family:
If you wish to test for lead in and around your home, you can hire a technician who will take samples throughout your home and send them to a laboratory for analysis. You may also purchase a home dust sampling kit and do the sampling yourself. The National Safety Council offers a lead dust test kit that includes everything necessary to test your home along with detailed instructions and a pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope to send samples for laboratory analysis. To permanently deal with lead hazards, you will have to hire the services of a certified lead abatement contractor. Such individuals are trained in the proper methods of containing, removing, and disposing of lead contaminated materials and can do so safely without releasing lead contaminated dust into your household environment.
So with a watchful eye and some precautionary measures, you can do your part to "get the lead out" and make certain your family never encounters the ill effects of lead.
Always address any health concerns or questions to your family physician or healthcare provider.
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