Lead Poisoning: Why Are Children at Greater Risk?

National Poison Prevention Week: March 20-26, 2022

When we protect our children from lead exposure, we’re safeguarding them from adverse effects that can last a lifetime.

Why does lead poisoning demand our attention?

Lead is a mineral that exists naturally in our environment. However, human activities can cause concentrated amounts of lead in our soil and the products we use.

When exposure to concentrated amounts of lead occurs, it enters the bloodstream and can travel to organs throughout the body. Unquestionably, an excessive lead level in the blood can result in lead poisoning.

There is no such thing as a “safe level” when it comes to lead exposure in children. Even a low level of exposure can harm a child’s health and well-being.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), undetected exposure to lead during childhood can cause adverse effects such as:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Hearing and speech problems
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Slowed growth and development

These adverse effects can result in lower IQ, decreased ability to pay attention, and poor performance in school. There is also evidence that exposure to lead during childhood can cause long-term harm.

Why are children at greater risk for lead poisoning?

Lead exposure occurs when a person comes in contact with lead. In the case of a child, this can involve touching and swallowing lead or breathing in lead dust.

Younger children are at greater risk because they tend to put their hands or other objects into their mouths. So, if a young child’s hands have come in contact with lead or lead dust, exposure is more likely than with older children.

That’s one reason the adverse effects of lead exposure are especially harmful to children under six years of age.

In addition to lead paint and dust (usually found in older homes built before 1978), other sources of potential lead exposure include:

  1. Dust from lead contaminates in soil, such as leaded gasoline, aviation fuel, mining, or industries
  2. Drinking water delivered through lead-based pipes, faucets, and plumbing fixtures
  3. Lead contaminates from traditional cultural medicines and cosmetics such as azarcon and greta
  4. Some candies and even candy wrappers
  5. Consumer products such as toys, jewelry, antiques, collectible items
  6. Lead-glazed pottery

What can we do to protect our children?

Lead exposure in children is not always apparent. Most children have no obvious or immediate symptoms. However, if it is recognized early, parents and guardians can reduce their child’s health risks and prevent further exposure.

We can better protect our children by identifying and eliminating the various sources of lead exposure described above. Many health departments can provide information and assistance in identifying and removing these sources to mitigate exposure.

Parents and guardians concerned about lead exposure should talk to their child’s healthcare provider or contact their local health department about getting a blood lead test for their child.

Most healthcare providers and local health departments can provide screening and testing for lead in the bloodstream. Many individual and group health insurance policies, including Medicaid, will cover the cost of this test.

The Moultrie County Health Department provides lead exposure screening and testing for Moultrie County residents and visitors. Interpretation of test results and professional, confidential follow-up is available free to Moultrie County residents.

Please call our office at 217-728-4114 if you have questions or need additional information concerning lead exposure.

Adult Health Topics