Tracking Childhood Lead Poisoning

Lead is a metallic element found in the earth’s crust. Because lead is an element, it does not break down or decay over time. Lead can be released into the environment during human activities such as mining, manufacturing, burning fossil fuels, and disturbing lead paint by sanding or scraping. Once put into the environment, lead can be a potential problem forever.

Too much lead in the body can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. In children, exposure to lead may result in:

  • Behavioral Problems
  • Decreased Intelligence
  • Learning Disabilities

Signs of Lead Poisoning

Children with lead poisoning may not look or act sick. Even if a child shows some signs of lead poisoning, these symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses. At very high levels of lead in the blood, symptoms may include vomiting, lapses in consciousness, seizures, coma and even death.

The only way to tell if a child is lead poisoned is by having a blood lead test. A blood lead test measures the amount of lead in blood. Blood tests are commonly used to screen children for lead poisoning and can be easily conducted at a child’s regular check-up. 

Exposure to Lead

Lead paint and dust from lead paint are the main sources of lead exposure for children. Children can be exposed to lead by eating, chewing or sucking on objects that contain lead or by breathing or swallowing house dust or soil that contains lead. The normal behavior of young children crawling, exploring, teething and putting objects in their mouths, can put them into contact with any lead present in their environment. Other sources of exposure include lead from a parent’s job or hobby, lead in plumbing fixtures, lead in soil, lead in pottery, and lead in imported products.

Reducing Risk of Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is a serious but preventable health problem. Keep your children away from sources of lead and follow these recommendations:

  • Ask a doctor to test your child if you are concerned about him or her being exposed to lead.
  • Avoid using home remedies (such as azarcon, greta, and pay-loo-ah) and cosmetics (such as kohl and alkohl) that contain lead.
  • Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and frequently wash your child's hands, pacifiers, and toys to reduce exposure to lead in houses with lead.
  • Take basic steps to decrease your exposure to lead if you remodel buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies involve working with lead-based products.
  • Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead if you live in a house or apartment built before 1978, especially if young children live with you or visit you.
  • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making baby formula. Hot water is more likely than cold water to contain higher levels of lead, and most of the lead in household water usually comes from plumbing in the house, not from the local water supply.

Available Treatments

The most important treatment for lead poisoning is to prevent or reduce lead exposure. Properly removing the lead from a person's environment helps to ensure that their blood lead levels will decline to safe levels. The longer a person is exposed to lead, the greater the likelihood that developmental problems or illness will occur. At very high blood lead levels, physicians may prescribe medications to lower blood lead levels in a treatment known as chelation therapy.