Children and Lead Exposure: What Parents Need to Know

Children and Lead Exposure: What Parents Need to Know

What’s the risk of lead exposure to children, and why are they susceptible to it?

Lead exposure and its consequences.

Lead exposure is a serious health concern for children, with potentially devastating consequences. Unfortunately, lead exposure in children can occur and accumulate almost undetected.

Parents and caregivers should be vigilant for potential sources of lead in their children’s environment. Furthermore, they need to remove or mitigate these sources of exposure and know how and when to seek healthcare intervention.

How do I identify and prevent lead exposure sources?

Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust. Its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination, human exposure, and significant public health problems in many parts of the world.

Lead poisoning occurs when too much lead enters the body. In humans, this can happen when we breathe in lead dust or eat or drink something contaminated by lead.

In order to protect your child from lead exposure, it's essential to recognize potential lead sources and take preventive measures:

Lead-based paint:
Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, but many older homes still contain it. Dust from lead-based paint is a common source of lead poisoning. Parents can prevent exposure by:

  • Testing homes built before 1978 for lead-based paint.
  • Ensuring children cannot access chipping or peeling paint.
  • Creating barriers between living/play areas and lead sources.

Soil Outside:
Soil can contain lead, especially in areas with exterior paint or past use of leaded gasoline. Prevent exposure by:

  • Regularly washing children's hands and toys.
  • Preventing children from playing in bare soil.
  • Removing shoes at the door to avoid tracking in lead-contaminated dust.

Drinking Water:
Lead can leach into water from plumbing with lead or lead solder. Parents can reduce exposure by:

  • Removing lead pipes from their homes/living areas
  • Using cold tap water for drinking and cooking
  • Being aware that boiling water will not remove lead

Why are children especially susceptible to lead exposure?

Children can accumulate lead in their bodies and continue to appear healthy. High blood lead levels can have long-term health and developmental effects, and even low levels of lead exposure can cause problems.

Young children under the age of six are particularly at risk for undetected lead exposure due to a variety of factors, including:

Unknown environmental exposure:
Children can access potential sources of lead unknown to the adults in their world.

For instance, when was the last time you examined the inside of your child’s crib or crawled around all the places they go in a day?

Hand-to-mouth behavior:
Babies and young children often put their hands, toys, and objects in their mouths. This behavior increases the likelihood of ingesting lead dust, paint chips, or other lead-contaminated materials.

Recognizing and controlling the items available to young children can help reduce the risk of exposure to lead and a host of other germs and toxins.

Frequently washing children’s toys and hands can also reduce their risk of exposure to lead and other harmful substances.

Greater Intake of Lead:
Children's dietary habits may expose them to lead, especially if they consume lead-contaminated food or water. Lead can be present in certain imported foods, canned goods with lead solder, or water from lead-contaminated pipes.

Increased absorption:
Children's bodies absorb lead more efficiently than adults, which means they can accumulate higher lead levels from the same exposure source.

As with small children, chronic lead exposure can result in the same negative health consequences for school-aged children.

This is why it is important to know how to recognize the symptoms of lead poisoning.

How do I recognize possible lead poisoning?

Potential indicators of elevated lead levels in children include:

Developmental Delays:
Lead exposure can result in slowed growth and developmental delays, affecting a child's physical and mental progress.

Behavior and Learning Problems:
Children with lead poisoning may experience behavioral issues, learning difficulties, and problems with attention and concentration.

Health Effects:
While there may be no signs, lead poisoning can lead to headaches, fatigue, weight loss, seizures, vomiting, constipation, hearing loss, abdominal pain, lethargy, and loss of appetite in children.

Severe Consequences:
In cases of very high lead levels, children can experience seizures, coma, and even death.

Should I get my child tested for lead?

There is no safe level of lead in humans.

Children between ages 12 and 36 months are most vulnerable to unknown lead exposure. However, older children can also be affected by lead exposure and toxicity.

A lead test is the most accurate way to determine if your child has been exposed to lead. Because lead testing is not a routine part of pediatric check-ups, parents should request it from their healthcare provider.

Lead testing is available at the MCHD.

Regular lead testing and proactive measures can protect children from lead poisoning hazards, ensuring their healthy development and well-being.

Many county health departments offer eligible recipients lead screening and testing at low or no cost. Parents and caregivers can consult with health department staff and receive additional information and guidance if they have questions regarding lead exposure or testing.

Contact the Moultrie County Health Department for additional information and services. Your child's health is too precious to ignore the risks associated with lead exposure.

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