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What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead is a toxic metal that has been used in products for centuries.  Once it enters the body, lead can accumulate and cause damage.  It frequently goes unrecognized because it has no obvious symptoms.  Lead poisoning can cause delayed growth and development, learning disabilities, decreased intelligence, and hearing damage.  It can also lead to behavioral problems, possibly making the child more excitable and less able to concentrate.  In extreme cases, it can lead to severe coma and death.  In pregnant women, lead poisoning can increase the risk for premature and low-birth weight newborns. 

How do children get lead poisoning?

Children get lead poisoning by inhaling or swallowing small amounts of lead.  Lead-based paint is the most common cause of lead poisoning and it is found in many older homes prior to 1978.  When lead paint deteriorates, lead dust can contaminate the home and can get on children's hands, toys, bottles, and pacifier.  Approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust.

Who is at risk?

Children are most vulnerable in the womb through age six because they are growing so rapidly, their bodies absorb lead easier.  Children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk.  Children or some racial and ethnic groups and those living in older housing are affected by lead.

What can be done to prevent exposure to lead?

  • Regularly wash children's hands and toys because they can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil.  Both are known lead sources. 
  • Wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components every 2-3 weeks because household dust is a major source of lead.  Windowsills and wells can contain high levels of leaded dust.  If feasible, windows should be shut to prevent abrasion of painted surfaces or opened from the top sash. 
  • Prevent children from playing in bare soil, encouraging sand boxes.
  • Avoid using traditional home remedies and cosmetics that may contain lead. 
  • Avoid eating candies imported from Mexico
  • Avoid using containers, cookware, or tableware to store or cook foods or liquids that are not shown to be lead free.
  • Remove recalled toys and toy jewelry from children immediately.
  • Check Lead Recalls
  • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making baby formula (hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead.  Most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply).
  • Shower and change clothes after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products such as stain glass work, bullet making, or using a firing range. 

How do I get tested?

The CDC"s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is committed to the Healthy People 2020 goals of eliminating blood levels greater than 10 micro grams per deciliter.  Blood levels above 5 microgram per deciliter the CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. See your health care provider for testing.

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