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Lead Poisoning: A 'Must-Know' Guide
More than 400,000 U.S. children have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead is a metal that, when ingested or inhaled, can seep into developing brain tissue, causing learning disabilities and other chronic health problems, such as stunted growth, hyperactivity and impaired hearing.
"Lead poisoning affects children from every socioeconomic background," says Robert Camara, an environmental-protection specialist with the Environmental Protection Agency. "Lead dust from an older home that's being remodeled or one that's simply in disrepair is often the culprit, but children also can be exposed to lead through contaminated drinking water from lead pipes or lead solder."
If lead is a problem in your home, you may not realize it until it's too late because lead poisoning typically has no symptoms.
"Many parents don't find out their child has been lead-poisoned until they discover the child is learning-delayed. By then, the damage has already been done," says Mr. Camara.
There are simple things you can do to help protect your family from the dangers of lead. These include:
Screen for lead. If you live in a high-risk area, your children should be tested every year from ages 1 to 4, even if they seem healthy, says Mr. Camara. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about lead exposure or screening. If the test indicates your child's lead level is high, your doctor will discuss with you the appropriate action to take. That might mean using special cleaning methods in your home to reduce lead dust or making sure your child washes his or her hands before eating.
Clean your home often to minimize lead-paint dust. This is particularly important if your home was built before 1978, when lead was officially removed from residential house paint.
Use an all-purpose cleaner or one specially formulated for lead-dust removal. Give special attention to floors, window frames, windowsills, and surfaces where children have easy access. Also, "use paper towels instead of rags to avoid recontaminating the environment," says Mr. Camera.
Keep children from chewing on anything covered with paint that may contain lead, such as windowsills. Tiny pieces of peeling or chipped lead paint taste sweet, which is why children eat them.
Make sure your child's diet contains plenty of dairy, meat, beans, and citrus foods. "The calcium, iron and vitamin C in these foods help your child absorb less lead," says Mr. Camara.
Use only cold tap water for drinking or cooking and let it run for 15 to 30 seconds before using it. This habit helps flush out any potential lead in the water from lead pipes or lead solder.
Don't bring lead dust home. If you work around lead—say you refurbish boats on the weekends (lead is still allowed in marine paints) or do stained glass as a hobby—"change your clothes on the job site, put them in a plastic bag and wash them separately from the rest of the family's clothes," says Mr. Camara. Or, even better, have them washed elsewhere.
Hire the pros.To find out whether your home contains lead paint, hire a qualified lead professional to test your house paint. If the test is positive, "don't remove the lead yourself," says Mr. Camara. "To avoid contaminating your family, go with the pros."
Online Medical Reviewers:
Byrd, Sylvia RN, MBA
Oken, Emily MD
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.