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Childhood Lead Poisoning
Childhood lead poisoning - What is lead poisoning in children - Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information
Lead is a highly toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children under 6 years old are most at risk, because their bodies are growing quickly. Lead is a metallic element found in the environment. Lead is no longer used in paints, gasoline, water pipes and other products, but some lead-based products still exist and may pose a health hazard. Children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning because it can accumulate in their nervous system as their bodies grow and develop.
Lead is soft, malleable, solid, grayish and resistant to corrosion. Childhood lead poisoning is a known to be capable of harming all of the body's major systems and is particularly devastating to proper development. Death by lead poisoning is uncommon, but dangerous levels of lead in children may cause serious health problems, including lower intelligence and poor school performance. An estimated more than 400,000 U.S. children 5 years old or younger have levels of lead in their bodies high enough to cause concern.
Symptoms and Signs
Children from all social and economic levels can be affected by lead. Lead enters the body through either ingestion or inhalation. Small children and pregnant women absorb 50% of the lead that enters their bodies. The lead that is absorbed travels through the blood stream and lodges in soft tissue such as the liver, kidney and brain. Most of the lead that enters our bodies is stored in our bones and teeth. Lead can remain in bone and teeth for over 30 years and can actually be released back into the blood stream during times of high stress such as pregnancy.
Studies show that lead disrupts proper cognitive development. High levels require hospitalization (chelation therapy) and may put the child's life in risk. Lead poisoned children rarely exhibit physical symptoms until lead levels are dangerously high.
Many children may experience the following symptoms:
• Excessive sleeping
• Abdominal pains
• Problems with balance and motor control
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss
The only way to know for certain if a child is being exposed to lead hazards is through a blood lead test.
Lead poisoning causes damage to the brain and nervous system as well as the heart and red blood cells resulting in:
• Learning Disabilities
• Lowered I.Q.
• Attention Deficit Disorder
• Speech Delay
• Hearing Loss
• Slowed or Reduced Growth
• Behavioral Problems
• Violent or Aggressive Behavior
Complications in children
Health problems in children caused by exposure to low levels of lead may include:
• Nervous system and kidney damage
• Learning disabilities
• Speech, language and behavior problems
• Poor muscle coordination
• Decreased muscle and bone growth
Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause permanent damage. The greatest risk is to brain development, where irreversible damage may occur. High lead levels in children may cause seizures, unconsciousness, serve cognitive disabilities, coma and death is rare, but it can happen. Even though medical treatment like chelation can reduce the amount of lead in a child’s body, the damage done is permanent. The harmful effects of lead poisoning are permanent. The ONLY cure is prevention.
Risks of Exposure
Deteriorated lead-based paint in older homes and high levels of lead-contaminated house dust are the most common sources of lead poisoning in U.S. children. Lead paint is present in an estimated 24 million U.S. homes. More than 4 million of these are homes to one or more young children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lead poisoning may be hard to detect at first, because children who appear healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies. The accumulation of lead usually is gradual, building up unnoticed until levels become dangerous and cause signs and symptoms.
Lead paint was manufactured and sold for residential use on interiors and exteriors throughout the United States until 1978. This created the largest home-based environmental hazard facing children throughout the nation in homes big and small, urban and rural, rich and poor. When the paint remains intact or encased behind siding or paneling it does not present an immediate hazard. However, when lead-based paint begins flaking, chipping and peeling it creates a serious risk for exposure.
Small children are often poisoned by invisible lead dust that is released when paint is peeling, damaged or disturbed. This can often be caused by the opening and closing of windows, doors that rub or when old homes have been remodeled unsafely.
Lead dust is heavier than environmental dust, sticky, and may taste sweet to children and pets. Frequent and thorough cleaning of high risk areas like floors, entryways, and windows is necessary to reduce lead hazards. In addition to lead dust from paint, lead dust may also come from soil and airborne emissions, such as incinerators, smelters and other industries.
People are exposed to lead in many ways through deteriorating paint, household dust, bare soil, air, drinking water, food, ceramics, home remedies, hair dyes, and cosmetics. Often, bare soil contains some lead deposited there by vehicle emissions from leaded gasoline or from deteriorated exterior paint. Frequently, soil in vacant lots where old buildings once stood is contaminated with lead, and soil in neighborhoods where extensive renovation work occurred may also be contaminated.
If you have a bare soil problem, the easiest way to reduce the risk is to cover the soil with mulch (such as grass or pebbles). Children who play in lead-contaminated bare soil are likely to get some soil on their hands and under their fingernails. This soil can get into the mouths of the children, on their toys, and on their shoes. Lead-contaminated soil on children’s shoes can be tracked into the home. Similarly, a dog that rolls around in lead contaminated bare soil may transport some of that lead into the home.
Most at Risk by Lead Poisoning
Babies and young children especially are susceptible to lead exposure because they have a tendency to put objects in their mouths. They may eat or chew paint chips, or their hands or other objects placed in their mouths may be contaminated with lead dust. Lead poisoning is more dangerous to fetuses, babies and children than to adults because lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies. The tissue of children also is more sensitive to leads' damaging effects. Although lead exposure can affect any child, those who are most at risk are low-income children who live in older housing, usually in inner city areas.
• Living in or visit a home built before 1978 with chipping, flaking or peeling paint on the interior or exterior
• Living in or visit a home built before 1978 that is being or recently was renovated
• Being in contact with family and friends or their children that had high lead levels
• Using leaded crystal, old pottery or pottery from another country for food preparation? (i.e. cooking, serving or storage)
• Sometimes pregnant women have the urge to eat or chew things other than food such as clay, soil, plaster or paint chips
Children and adults living in or surrounded by an environment containing lead-based products are at risk of exposure to high lead levels. They may come into contact from a family member living in your home who has a job that involves: renovating, repainting or demolishing older homes; refinishing old painted furniture. Working in environments such as automotive garage or painting boats bridges or tunnels such occupations like removing and sandblasting old paint.
Testing for Lead
Doctors use a blood test to detect lead poisoning. A small blood sample is taken from a finger prick or from a vein. Lead levels in the blood are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). An unsafe level is 10 mcg/dL or higher - a guideline set by the CDC.
The CDC recommends having your child tested for lead poisoning at 6 months and then yearly if your home contains lead paint, or if you're exposed to lead at work or use lead in your hobby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing every child at 12 months of age, and if resources allow, at 24 months. Screening should start at 6 months if the child is at risk of lead exposure (for example, if the child lives in an older home built before 1978 which has peeling or chipping paint). Decisions about further testing should be based on previous blood-lead test results and the child's risk of lead exposure. In some states, more frequent lead screening is required by law.
Blood testing can be done using three different methods:
• venous: collecting blood from a vein in a syringe
• capillector: collecting blood from a finger prick in a small tube
• paper filter: collecting 2 drops of blood from a finger prick on special paper
Ask your doctor or your local health department to have your child tested. If a problem is detected early it can be halted before serious damage occurs.
Parents may help to reduce lead exposure to their children by cleaning and maintaining homes, having their children's blood lead levels checked, and promoting proper nutrition. The EPA continues to work to protect human health and the environment against the dangers of lead by developing regulations, conducting research, and designing educational outreach efforts and materials.
Drinking water can sometimes contribute to elevated blood lead levels. Lead can leach into drinking water from certain types of plumbing materials (lead pipes, copper pipes with lead solder, and brass faucets). Although water is usually not the primary source of lead exposure for children who have elevated blood lead levels, parents should be aware that babies fed formula made with water are at special risk of lead poisoning if their formula is made with lead-contaminated water.
To ensure your drinking water does not contain a hazardous level of lead, test the water at your faucets. Call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 for more information. Kits and instructions on how to test water are available from a number of providers.
Visit The National Lead Information Center (NLIC) to learn more about lead, lead hazards, and provides some simple steps to protect your family or you can speak to an information specialist by calling 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).
Childhood Lead Poisoning
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