Get the lead out! Moms use this phrase when trying to get kids out the door for school. Coaches yell it when attempting to motivate players. But it’s never more meaningful than when it’s used to protect your family’s health.
“Lead is a soft metal with many uses, but it can also be a poison when it is consumed or inhaled,” says Dr. Gabriel Murillo, a Sharp Rees-Stealy pediatrician. “Lead poisoning can decrease a child’s brain development and cause behavioral and learning disabilities.”
Children are usually exposed to lead in their own home through lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust. The use of lead-based paints in housing was banned in 1978, but in homes built before then, traces of the unsafe paint are likely to be found.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 24 million homes still contain lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust. Cracked, crumbly or powdery paint puts children at the greatest risk. Lead-contaminated soil, and imported candy, toys and materials such as pottery and metal jewelry can also be detrimental to a child’s health.
“Children under age six are at greatest risk because they often place their hands and objects in their mouth,” says Dr. Murillo. “Unfortunately, most children who have lead poisoning do not exhibit any symptoms or they have warning signs like stomachache, loss of appetite, fatigue and headache symptoms, which can be confused with other common childhood complaints.”
Once a child is exposed to lead, the effects of poisoning cannot be reversed and can lead to serious health problems including developmental delays, decreased bone and muscle growth and seizures.
Protect your family from lead poisoning
According to Dr. Murillo, the best way to avoid health problems related to lead poisoning is to make sure your home is lead-free. He offers the following ways to prevent lead exposure:
- If you live in a home built before 1978, keep children away from chalky, cracked or peeling paint and have paint and dust within your home tested for lead.
- Have your water tested for lead if your home was built before 1970 and the plumbing has not been replaced.
- Keep your home clean and free of dust, and frequently wash your child’s hands and toys.
- Do not eat from, cook in or store food in imported ceramic pottery.
- Avoid candies imported from Mexico and imported or antique toys and jewelry that may contain lead.
- Do not let children play in soil that may be contaminated.
- Keep children and pregnant women away from the renovation of housing built before 1978.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about the potential for lead exposure in your home. There are treatments for lead poisoning based on the level of lead found in the blood, but reduction of exposure is the best way to get the lead out.