We assume our homes are safe, but something you can’t see or smell may be hurting your child or grandchild. This hidden danger is lead, a toxic metal that can build up in the body over time and cause serious health problems.
There are several ways children can be exposed to lead, including contaminated dust and soil around a home or day care center. Children less than six years old are especially at risk because their developing bodies are growing so quickly. Young children also tend to put their hands and other objects — which may have lead dust on them — into their mouths as a normal part of their development.
How can you protect children from lead poisoning? Dr. Anna Baldino, an Independence Blue Cross medical director and board-certified pediatrician, advises parents and grandparents to pay close attention to the spaces where children spend most of their time.
Know the Risks for Lead Poisoning
Many homes and buildings built before 1978 contain lead-based paint (which was banned by the federal government that year), particularly around doors and windows.
When the paint chips, peels, or cracks, is rubbed off due to wear and tear, or is sanded off during repairs or remodeling, it releases lead dust that settles on floors and other surfaces where babies and toddlers can easily get it on their hands.
According to the Census Bureau’s latest American Housing Survey, more than 90 percent of homes in Philadelphia were built before 1978. Ingesting lead paint chips or dust is the most common way children are exposed to lead in Philadelphia. The city offers a program to help homeowners test for and remove lead.
Soil near older homes and in industrial areas can also contain lead, which can be tracked inside on your shoes or by pets. If you are exposed to lead at your workplace, it’s also possible to bring it into your home on your clothing.
Other sources of lead include:
- Drinking water carried through old lead pipes and plumbing fixtures
- Certain types of pottery and ceramics
- Toys, candy, jewelry, and cosmetics made outside of the United States
- Traditional medicines used to treat various health issues
Get Your Child Tested for Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning symptoms can include weight loss, irritability, fatigue, stomach pain, and vomiting, but symptoms may not appear until there is a high lead level in a child’s body. Some of the serious health effects of long-term exposure to lead can include learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Dr. Baldino encourages you to talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned about possible lead exposure or have questions about your child’s development.
A simple blood test, usually performed at 12 and 24 months, is the only way to determine if your child has lead poisoning. Your child’s doctor will also perform developmental screenings based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics during regular well-visits at nine, 18, and 24 or 30 months to ensure your child is meeting key developmental milestones.
If the blood test is positive for lead, the doctor can provide information on how to lower the level, get your child treated if the level is high, and prevent additional exposure.
How to Prevent Lead Exposure at Home
There is no safe level of lead in the body, so it’s extremely important to prevent lead exposure. A good place to start is to pretend you are a baby or toddler — get down on all fours where they play and crawl to see things from their view so you know where lead dust may be hiding.
Following these tips can help you prevent lead exposure:
- Clean floors and other dusty surfaces like windowsills regularly using a household cleaner and a wet cloth.
- Take off your shoes before entering your home.
- Wash your child’s hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
- Feed your child foods high in iron, vitamin C, and calcium, which helps the body absorb less lead.
- Get your home tested for lead if it was built before 1978. If lead is present, have it safely removed by licensed professionals.
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.
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.