Childhood Lead Poisoning: What You Need To Know Now
When my daughter turned one, we received a lovely card from the County Department of Health that said:
“Happy Birthday! Exposure to lead is harmful to your child and can cause learning problems, physical problems, behavioral problems, and organ and brain damage. GET YOUR CHILD TESTED FOR LEAD! Every child should be tested at 1 and 2 years of age.”
I stopped and thought about that for a second. Sure, I was very happy to see that they are educating parents about the dangers of lead poisoning, which causes autism-like symptoms, ADHD, violent tendencies, and other serious issues. But something was still bothering me…
That’s when it hit me – they were telling me to get my child tested, but not my home! I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to have my home tested for lead paint and lead dust? Shouldn’t we be preventing our children from becoming lead poisoned in the first place, rather than testing the level of lead in their blood?
National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is next week, yet we, as a society, remain ignorant about the dangers of lead. Even after the Flint, MI water crisis, and the ongoing issues of lead in water across the US. I have heard from parents, doctors, teachers, and even contractors who just didn’t realize the severity of lead poisoning, and what needs to be done to prevent it — before the damage is done.
I wish someone had educated me. I learned my lesson too late.
A Neighbor’s Renovation Poisoned My Family
When I was pregnant with my son, I was completely naive about the dangers of lead poisoning, and how easily it can happen.
We were living in a 100-year-old landmarked building in Greenwich Village. The building across the courtyard was being demolished, and simultaneously, the apartment above us was being renovated. Dust came in through the windows and fell down the chimney, covering our apartment daily. The neighbor sent a cleaning person in a few times a week to clean it up. At the time, I was irritated, and thought that was the least he could do. What I did not realize until a year later was that he should have done a lot more. He was poisoning my family.
The construction dust was full of lead, asbestos, and other toxins. When my son and I were tested a year and a half later, we found out our blood lead levels more abnormally high. But by then it was too late. My eldest child is now 12, and he struggles with ADHD and poor concentration every day. Children with elevated levels of lead in their blood are likely to exhibit more developmental issues as they mature. Every day, I beat myself up because I could have prevented this. If only I had known! And who knows what damage it did to me, which may have been passed on to my other two children.
The more parents know about lead poisoning early on, the less likely their children will be harmed. As a mom, and as an advocate to protect our children from the completely preventable disease of lead poisoning, I’m asking you to educate yourself. Educate a friend. Educate your physician.
And most importantly, have your home tested for lead!
Here’s What Every Parent Needs To Know About Lead Poisoning
Lead dust is the most common cause of lead poisoning – not eating paint chips.
Lead was an additive in residential paint until 1978. When disturbed, it is highly toxic and dangerous to your health. Lead paint and lead dust, which forms when lead paint is chipped away or sanded, both cause lead poisoning. Contrary to what most people think, a child doesn’t have to eat paint chips to get lead poisoning. Lead dust is invisible, travels through the air, and is very harmful when inhaled.
Know the sources of lead poisoning.
Paint – If you live in a home built before 1978, have your home tested for lead paint to see if you and your family are at risk. Hire a professional with an XRF gun to go room to room, as there may be lead in one room, and not another.
Dust – Everything from opening and closing a window to renovations can send lead dust flying through your home. Lead dust also can be found on floors, playground equipment, pools, and toys.
Soil – Past renovations may have contaminated the soil in which your child plays. Be sure to have your soil tested.
Water – It is important to test the water, because there may be lead in your pipes. This is essential if you are bringing home a newborn or infant, who will be drinking and bathing in that water.
Other sources of lead are plumbing fixtures, clawfoot and porcelain coated bath tubs, stained glass, toys, pottery glazes, leaded crystal, jewelry, antiques, folk remedies, food cans, artificial turf, and more.
Don’t assume your pediatrician tests your child for lead.
In some states, lead screening for children under the age of three is mandatory. But in most states, lead testing is done only at the discretion of the pediatrician. If your doctor does not automatically test for lead, ask that it be done. It’s a simple blood test and could save your child’s life.
Take proper precautions when renovating.
Before you start any renovation, whether you hire a contractor or do it yourself, have your home tested to see if and where you have lead paint. If your home was built before 1978, chances are that there is lead somewhere. And unless you know where the lead is located, you or your contractor can unknowingly release toxic lead dust into the air. Make sure whoever does the work follows the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Paint rule (RRP) protocol.
If you have a neighbor that is renovating an older property and is not following lead safe work practices, say something! Ask them if they tested for lead, and if they say they did and it’s fine, ask for proof. Don’t trust that someone will give you an honest answer. Lead dust can easily contaminate a chunk of the neighborhood, including your home and soil.
Watch for symptoms of lead poisoning.
Lead poisoning symptoms in children include:
- Learning difficulties;
- Weight loss and loss of appetite;
- Abdominal pain;
- Sluggishness and fatigue;