What is Lead Poisoning?
Lead poisoning is a serious toxic condition. Lead takes a long time to leave a person’s system, allowing even small amounts of lead can easily build to dangerous levels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated a blood lead level of 5 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) or over as lead poisoned, but many studies have shown that even lower levels can have negative effects. Lead poisoning can affect nearly every system in the body, although its effects on the brain are the most detrimental. Since lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. Lead poisoning is serious and permanent. It can cause:
- brain damage
- lowered IQ
- learning disabilities
- physical impairments
Who is at Risk for Lead Poisoning?
Children under six are the group most affected by lead poisoning. This is because lead poisoning can interfere with proper brain development and young children’s brains are developing rapidly. Additionally, children often play on the floor where lead dust gathers and they frequently put their hands and other objects, which may be covered in lead dust, into their mouths. Children from all social and economic levels can be affected by lead poisoning, although children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk. Children of some racial and ethnic groups living in older housing are disproportionately affected by lead. For example, 22% of black children and 13% of Mexican-American children living in housing built before 1946 have elevated blood lead levels compared with 6% of white children living in comparable types of housing.
The United States Public Health Services estimated that 1 child in 6 suffers from lead poisoning with a total of 3-4 million children affected nationwide. Approximately 434,000U.S.children aged 1-5 years have blood lead levels greater than the CDC recommended level of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.
What are the effects of lead poisoning?
Lead may cause irreversible damage to children’s brains. As a result, lead poisoned children are seven times as likely to drop out of school as other children. Even low levels of lead exposure decrease performance in math and reading. Lead poisoning is also associated with increased delinquent and criminal behavior. At very high levels, lead poisoning can cause seizures, comas and even death.
How Are Children Exposed to Lead?
The major source of lead exposure among U.S. children is lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust found in deteriorating homes and buildings. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978, however any home built before 1978 will most likely contain lead. Homes built before 1950 have the highest levels of lead because paint used in the first half of the century had a very high concentration of lead. Additionally, leaded gasoline use before 1985 put a great deal of lead into the atmosphere, which has settled in the soil. Children who live in urban areas where most of the houses are old and where a lot of automobile traffic occurred in the past are more likely to be exposed to lead.
Lead paint often deteriorates at friction points, like on window sills or door frames. Lead paint, when it flakes or chips, becomes lead dust. This dust, which may not even be visible, is toxic to children. It settles on floors and other surfaces where it can get on children’s hands and into their mouths when they are playing. Because small children often play on the floor and put their fingers or other objects into their mouth, they ingest more lead dust than adults.
Besides lead paint, other sources of lead include:
- Some children’s jewelry and toys
- Hobbies and work that use lead products (such as making stained glass windows or recycling automobile batteries).
- Drinking water (old pipes, solder and fixtures sometimes contain lead)
- Bare soil or sand (lead may be present from leaded gasoline used in the past or from chipping house paint)
How Do I Know If My Child Has Been Lead Poisoned?
The only way to know if a child is lead poisoned is to have him or her tested by a physician. Children under six years old should be tested annually. Ask your physician or contact your local health department to get your child tested. Medicaid and most insurance plans cover testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated a blood lead level of over 5 µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) as lead poisoned, however many studies have shown that even lower levels can have negative effects.
How big is the Lead Problem in Detroit?
According to Detroit Health Department and the Census, 73.9% of the City’s housing was built before 1955 and, therefore, contains paint with a high proportion of lead. Due to the large number of old homes, the rate of lead poisoning is much higher in Detroit than that in other areas. The State of Michigan considers all children in the City of Detroit to be at-risk. Each year, more than 2,000 Detroit children are found to have lead poisoning. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 lead poisoned children in Detroit. Current data show that 1 in 10 children living in Detroit are lead poisoned and in some zip codes, that number is as high as 1 in 5. Unfortunately, despite mandatory screening requirements for Medicaid children, only 33% of Detroit’s 113,000 children under 6 are tested. Therefore many lead poisoned children continue to remain undetected and untreated.
How Can I Prevent my Children from Becoming Lead Poisoned?
- Clean weekly. Wet mopping floors and wiping window sills and wells with a household cleaner helps control lead dust.
- Wash children’s hands, toys, pacifiers, and bottles often.
- Get all children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years tested for lead once a year.
- Make sure children are not eating paint chips or picking at peeling paint. Although this may seem strange, many children eat lead paint because lead has a sweet flavor.
- Make sure that everyone wipe their shoes or takes their shoes off before entering the house.
- Do not allow children to play in bare dirt or soil. Cover soil with grass, mulch or bushes.
- Feed your children a diet rich in calcium and iron. If these nutrient levels are low in a child’s body, the child will absorb more lead. Vegetables and milk are great sources of these important nutrients.
- When using tap water, always use cold water. Let the water run until the temperature changes. Do not make bottles or cook with hot tap water.
- Follow lead safe work practices when doing any work that involves disturbing old paint. Remove children from the home when doing repairs or remodeling.
- Be sure that no one brings lead home from work on clothes and shoes, especially those employed in auto mechanics or construction.