One of the greatest dangers to children is one we can’t see ― lead. Lead is a toxic metal that has been used in paint, pipes, gasoline, and manufacturing. Traces of lead can be found in dust, soil, and water in and around homes, schools, and day care centers. Exposure to lead causes lead poisoning.
Both adults and children can have lead poisoning, but children ages six and younger are at the highest risk because they regularly put their hands and toys, which can have lead dust on them, into their mouths. Children’s bodies are still growing, so they absorb lead more easily than adults do.
There is no safe level of lead in the body. Lead poisoning negatively effects a child’s physical and mental development. It causes developmental delays that make it harder for them to learn in school and other lifelong health issues. The longer a child is exposed to lead, the more likely they could suffer severe health impacts.
There is good news, though ― lead poisoning is preventable. You can protect your child’s health by removing sources of lead in your child’s environment and making sure they get their blood tested for lead levels. This test is the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning.
A blood lead level test is usually performed by a child’s doctor once at 12 months and again at 24 months, but it can also be performed as early as nine months if the doctor determines a child is at higher risk for exposure to lead.
Know Where Lead Is Hiding
Lead exposure differs depending on a child’s living circumstances, but children of color and those from low-income families are more likely to be exposed because they live in older homes and communities.
Lead-based paint is the main source of lead poisoning in children. In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of homes were built before 1978, before lead-based paint was banned for use in homes.
When lead-based paint is chipped or peeling, or if it is rubbed or sanded off, it releases dust into the air. The dust settles on floors where babies and toddlers crawl and play, as well as on windowsills and other surfaces they may come into contact with.
Contaminated soil and other sources
The soil in older communities, especially those in former industrial areas, where there is historically high traffic, or areas with a lot of demolition of older buildings can also contain lead.
Children can be exposed to lead in the soil while playing outside or by dust and soil tracked inside on the bottoms of shoes or on a pet’s paws. They can also come in contact with lead dust on the clothing of adults who do jobs that expose them to lead, such as construction, auto repair, and some types of recycling.
Other sources of lead include:
- Water carried through old lead pipes and plumbing fixtures
- Glazed pottery and ceramics
- Toys, candy, jewelry, and cosmetics made outside the United States
- Old or recycled electronics
Child Lead Poisoning Symptoms and Health Problems
Warning signs that your child has lead poisoning can include stomach pain, vomiting, weight loss, irritability, and extreme tiredness. However, these symptoms may not appear until there is a dangerously high lead level in your child’s body.
Lead poisoning poses serious long-term health problems, including learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD), lower IQ, and behavioral problems.
Options to Get Your Child Tested For Lead
Talk to your child’s doctor about the risk for lead poisoning and have your child’s blood tested for lead when your doctor recommends it.
If your child is covered by a commercial Independence Blue Cross (Independence) health plan or Keystone HMO Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) from Independence, there are two options to get your child tested, where and when it is convenient for you:
- At their doctor’s office
- At a participating Labcorp patient service center, including Labcorp at Walgreens
Be sure to check your child’s health plan benefits booklet for information about coverage for blood lead level tests. For service at Labcorp locations, your doctor will need to write a prescription for the test first, and then you can make an appointment.
To find your nearest Labcorp patient service center, including Labcorp at Walgreens, and make an appointment, visit labcorp.com.
If you need help finding a doctor, log in at ibx.com to search for one based on your child’s health plan.
Preventing Lead Poisoning
If your child’s blood test is positive for lead, the doctor can provide information on lowering the level, getting your child treated if the level is high, and preventing additional exposure. You can work with the doctor to get your child retested as appropriate.
You can also talk to a Registered Nurse Health Coach 24/7 for more information about lead poisoning and testing:
- Independence Blue Cross members: 1-800-ASK-BLUE (1-800-275-2583) (TTY/TDD: 711)
- Keystone HMO CHIP members: 1-833-444-6428 (TTY/TDD: 711)
Follow these tips to help you reduce your child’s risk for exposure:
- Clean floors and other dusty surfaces like windowsills regularly using a wet cloth.
- Take off your shoes before entering your home.
- Wash your child’s hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
- Feed your child a well-balanced diet including foods high in iron, vitamin C, and calcium, which help the body absorb less lead.
- Close the windows if there is construction dust in the air.
- Get your home, including paint and pipes, tested for lead if it was built before 1978. If lead is present, have it safely removed by licensed professionals.
- Get your soil tested if your child plays outside or if you grow food outside. If lead is present, take precautions to limit your child’s exposure.
- Ask about lead testing in the places your child spends a lot of time, like day care or other caregivers’ homes.
Take action to protect your child from the dangers of lead to help them live the healthiest life possible.