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Prevent Lead Poisoning in Children

Image of Prevent Lead Poisoning in Children. Any home or building built before 1978 should be tested for lead in its paint and surrounding soil. If a child lives in the home, they should be tested for lead poisoning. (Courtesy photo)

When you’re a parent, there are a million things you worry about to keep your children safe.

Your home shouldn’t be one of them.

Prior to 1978, paint was made with lead, which can be a serious health hazard. Infants or toddlers are more at-risk for exposure since they can put cracked paint chips in their mouths.

It's important for parents to understand the steps and precautions to take to avoid potentially exposing children to lead poisoning.

“Despite the removal of lead from American paint in 1978, it remains a major source of lead exposure,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Nhien Pho, medical director of pediatrics and acting chief of medical staff, 375th Pediatrics Clinic, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Lead-contaminated paint and dust are the most hazardous sources of lead poisoning for U.S. children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978, and lead poisoning had been steadily decreasing since the 1980’s.

This law only applied to household use, and lead paint can still be found in schools. “Lead paint in schools is a significant potential source of exposure,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael Y. Migita, pediatric medical director at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Exposures in the Military

Pho acknowledged that lead exposure is uncommon on military installations but does point out that there is a risk of exposure from lead transference from the field.

In the military, “the shooting range can result in lead dust exposure which service members can bring home,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott Corrigan, pediatrician at Beale Air Force Base, California.

When on or near a firing range and ammunition, service members are encouraged to change clothes and their shoes/boots before returning home and put them in a plastic bag. Once home, bathe and wash uniforms separately to avoid lead transference.

According to the CDC, other causes of lead poisoning include: soil near older buildings, drinking water delivered through lead pipes, and some imported consumer products, foods, cosmetics, and traditional medicines.

Children Most at Risk

Some children are more likely to be exposed to lead than others. These children include those who:

  • Live or spend time in a house or building built before 1978
  • Are from low-income households
  • Are from less-developed countries
  • Live or spend time with someone who works with lead or has hobbies that expose them to lead

All children at risk for lead exposure should be tested for lead poisoning.

“The at-risk population is children younger than six years of age. Of that population, those less than 36 months are most at risk,” said Pho. “They are at greater risk of lead exposure due to crawling, hand-to-mouth behaviors, and faster baseline respiratory rates.”

If you suspect your child has been exposed to lead, see your doctor. The MHS ensures that all children are screened, and if needed, a test lead levels in the blood. TRICARE covers lead level blood tests as part of their services.

Doctors stress that attending all wellness checks are vital as this is when lead screenings along with screening for anemia, growth, and development occur for all children, particularly in infants and toddlers.

Your pediatrician will guide you through the “proper steps and treatment if there is a high blood level exposure,” said Pho. The DHA has toxicology experts to help, if needed.

Effects of Lead Poisoning

According to the CDC, it isn’t paint by itself that is dangerous, it is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem. Lead is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell.

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in learning disabilities, shortened attention span, irritability, lowered IQ, and slowed growth and development.

Reduce Lead Poisoning Risk

You can take steps and precautions to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in your home and workplace.

  • Make sure children do not have access to peeling paint or painted chewable surfaces.
  • Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
  • Teach children to remove their shoes in the home, and wash hands after playing outdoors.
  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration.
  • Address water damage quickly and completely.
  • Keep your home clean and dust-free.
  • Flush faucets/water outlets by allowing cold water to run for one-to-two minutes before using for drinking or food preparation.
  • Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources.
  • Ensure your family eats well-balanced meals rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead.

Testing your home is a priority if lead poisoning is confirmed or suspected. Contact your local public health department for more information.

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Last Updated: April 28, 2023
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