This summer the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its recommendations for the prevention of childhood lead toxicity. The action was in response not only to the Flint Michigan drinking water crisis but also because of a growing body of scientific evidence that indicates even low levels of blood lead may cause permanent cognitive, academic, or behavioral difficulties in children. Apparently there are many investigators that believe that there is no safe level of blood lead concentration for children and the best treatment for lead poisoning is to prevent exposure.
In the U.S. dramatic drops in children’s blood lead concentrations occurred when lead was eliminated from gasoline, paint, and other consumer products. Our children, however, may still be exposed to lead in their homes and communities. Children are at high risk of lead exposure as soon as they teethe and start to crawl and explore their environment. Older homes that are being renovated or are poorly maintained may be a source of exposure. Environmental contamination can result from factories when lead contained in exhaust settles in the surrounding soil. Water flow from streams or lakes through aging pipes may leach out lead into the tap water. Hobby materials, vinyl mini blinds, imported dishware, and toys may be another lead source. Certain occupations may have lead dust exposure and pose a risk of clothes contamination that may be brought home. Welders, employees who work with batteries or who construct leaded glass containers or windows may be at risk. People working on firearm ranges with lead dust from the use of lead bullets can also expose their children after coming home.
The AAP recommends primary care providers screen 12-24 month old children for elevated blood lead levels, especially for those who live in areas where 25% or more of housing was built before 1960. Monitoring should also be done in children who already have a blood level greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter. It also recommends individual assessments of old houses that have not been well maintained or have undergone extensive repairs or renovations in the past 6 months.
How do parents protect their children from lead exposure?
1) Test your house for lead especially if built before 1978. Consult the local health dept.
2) In older homes with known lead paint on walls, learn safe ways to make repairs and minimize dust exposure throughout the house. Consult with a licensed contractor about lead dust control.
3) Keep children away from old window casings, porches and other areas with peeling or chipping paint.
4) Do not allow children to play on bare ground around the house. These areas could have lead deposited in the soil. Plant grass or spread mulch over the areas.
5) Clean house regularly to eliminate dust.
6) Always make children wash their hands before eating.
7) Always use cold flushed tap water for cooking and drinking. Make sure cold water runs for one minute before using. Have water tested for lead.
8) Eat healthy food high in calcium and iron to reduce lead absorption.