You installed the stair gates, put child locks on the cabinets, and someday you’ll figure out how to keep your kid from eating from the dog’s bowl. In our efforts to kid-proof, we may be missing an invisible threat.
If you live in an older building, there could be lead paint in your home. When this paint cracks, flakes, or is sanded or rubbed off, lead dust is released into your living space, where it can get into your child’s body.
Lead dust is invisible, but it doesn’t have to be a mystery. Arm yourself with a few facts, and you’ll be able to keep your family safe. We talked to Dr. Anna Baldino, IBX Medical Director and board-certified pediatrician, about how to lower your family’s risk of lead poisoning.
Who is at risk for lead poisoning?
If you live in a home that was built before 1978 (the year lead was removed from house paint), then your family may be at risk. In Philly alone, over 90 percent of residences were built before 1978. Children are most often poisoned by lead dust and lead paint in these older homes and in daycare centers.
How can lead dust end up in our homes?
In three ways:
- Lead dust can come from repairing lead-painted areas, opening and closing lead-painted windows, and through normal wear and tear on lead-painted areas. Lead dust settles to the floor, where babies crawl, or onto their toys. It gets into their bodies when children put their hands (or their toys) into their mouths.
- Lead particles from leaded gasoline or paint can settle on soil and remain for years. This can be a problem around highways and in some urban settings. Soil close to older houses can also contain lead.
- Household dust can contain lead from lead paint chips or from contaminated soil brought in from outside.
Lead can also be found in water, pottery, toys, jewelry, cosmetics, and other places.
Why do we worry about lead poisoning in children and not in adults?
Lead poisoning is mainly a concern for children under the age of six, because their bodies are growing rapidly and they tend to put their hands and toys into their mouths. Children face the biggest risk between 12 and 24 months.
What are the signs of lead poisoning?
Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning usually don’t appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated in the body. Some of these include: developmental delays, learning difficulties, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness and fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, hearing loss, seizures, and eating things, such as paper and dirt, that aren’t food (this is also called pica).
In the long term, lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and attention deficit disorder (ADD). One in five children diagnosed with ADD may have had lead poisoning.
When should my child get tested for lead?
Lead testing consists of a blood test usually performed at 12 months and 24 months of age. Your doctor may continue to screen for lead until your child is six years old. If your child’s blood lead level is greater than five micrograms/deciliter, your doctor will make recommendations to help lower the level.
What can we do to prevent lead poisoning in the home?
Here’s a five-part action plan to lower your risk of lead poisoning:
- Get tested: If your home was built before 1978, have it tested for lead by a licensed lead inspector. Have lead hazards corrected using properly trained and licensed professionals.
- Bust the dust: Wipe dusty areas with a household cleaner and paper towels. The harder you scrub, the better. Take off your shoes to prevent contaminated soil from being tracked into the house.
- Watch your children’s diet: Feed your children 4 – 6 small meals during the day (they absorb less lead on a full stomach) and focus on foods high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C. Keep children from walking around with food (it could be put down in dusty areas).
- Wash hands and toys: Wash your children’s hands often, and always before eating and sleeping. Wash or wipe toys regularly.
- Run the taps: If you drink from the tap, run any water that you use for drinking, cooking, or for making baby formula, until it is cold. You can also use a water filter that is certified to remove lead.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.
Dr. Anna Baldino is a board-certified pediatrician. She graduated from Drexel University with a B.S. in Nutrition Science, and from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine with a Doctor of Osteopathy degree. She completed her pediatric residency at the UMDNJ-Osteopathic School of Medicine. Before joining Independence Blue Cross as a Medical Director in 2004, she was an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, UMDNJ Department of Pediatrics. As part of her duties, she provided medical care to migrant worker children, to children at the local health departments, and to a local school district. Dr. Baldino is a fellow of the AAP and ACOP.