Keep your child lead-free

by Healthy Child Healthy World (Source: Baby Center)

There has been a lot of news lately about the dangers of lead on toys. But your child runs the risk of being exposed to lead through more than just a metal car or a poorly painted doll. The paint on older homes can be lead based and certain geographic areas are more prone to lead in the environment.

Here’s what to do to make sure your child is lead-free.

Check your child’s blood lead level

Age-specific blood lead level tests should be done at 12 months, then annually until the age of 5. Lead is most dangerous to children under 6 years old. A level of 10 ug/dl is cause for concern. Some states, like New Jersey, require blood lead level tests for children under the age of 3 by law.

For older children, ask your pediatrician about lead testing if:

  • Your child has never been tested for lead
  • You have moved into a house or apartment built before 1979 and paint is crumbling, peeling or otherwise deteriorating
  • You live in a high risk area (see Scorecard’s Lead Hazard Pollution Locator), and/or
  • Your child develops lead poisoning symptoms: learning disabilities, memory loss, poor performance in school, difficulty understanding directions, hyperactivity, aggression, hearing loss, reduced eye-hand coordination, anemia, abdominal pains, constipation, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

Test your paint for lead, if your house or apartment was built before 1979

Lead-based paint was used in most homes before it was banned in 1978. Newer coats of paint above lead-based paint layers seals in the lead. But if there are cracks, the paint is peeling, or lead paint was used on windowsills and doorjambs where friction causes lead dust to be released, your home could be contaminated.

It is also important to test before any type of renovation that will involve sanding or demolition of painted surfaces.

Check the exterior of your house for lead paint, too. Paint chips and dust from deteriorating paint outdoors can contaminate your soil. Another source of lead in soil around homes is diesel exhaust – especially if your home is near a busy street or highway.

Test your tap water for lead

Lead pipes were installed in homes and as public water mains until the 1920s. Many of these pipes still carry water into our homes! Lead was also used in pipe solder and brass fittings until the 1980s. For more information, see Safe Pipes Mean Safe Water.

Until you know for sure that your tap water is lead-free, remember to run the tap for a minute or two before using in the morning to flush the lines of water that sat overnight. Use cold water for drinking and cooking because hot water leaches lead from pipes.

Find out when your child’s school or daycare was built

Since paint with more than 0.06 percent lead was banned in 1978, any building built before then is likely to contain lead paint. Facilities built after 1992 are least likely to have lead paint. In general, the older the paint, the higher the lead content. See Natural Resources Defense Council’s fact sheet on Lead Paint in Schools for more information.

If your child’s school or daycare was built before 1979, ask officials about lead testing

There’s a chance that your child’s school or daycare has not been tested for the presence of lead. While federal law requires schools and daycares to ensure that lead levels in paint, dust, soil, and water are below maximum allowable levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for maximum lead content in paint, dust, and soil, actual testing is not mandatory. However, some states are testing such facilities.

For information on the requirements of your state, contact your state department of health.

When asking about school or daycare lead testing, ask officials about the methods used and what was done to remove any lead hazards found. If your school/daycare isn’t receptive to testing, consider joining with other parents to encourage them to do it

Know your state’s policies on lead issues

The National Center for Healthy Housing has information on federal, state, and local regulations and policies. You can also request information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Lead Information Center, (800) 424-LEAD.

Healthy bodies absorb less lead

The Alliance for Healthy Homes (formerly the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning) recommends feeding kids a diet rich in iron, calcium, and low-fat foods, since a healthy diet helps the body absorb less lead. Foods rich in iron include eggs, red meats, some nuts, and beans. (Note: This is a preventative measure and not a treatment for lead poisoning.)

Damp mop and dust frequently to keep lead levels in your home low

Dust can contain high levels of lead, from old paint, contaminated soil that’s been tracked in, deteriorating vinyl, and other sources. To reduce the chances of your children ingesting contaminated dust, pick it up with a damp mop and damp dust cloth. (Dry mops and cloths may just push the dust around.)

Focus especially on items children are likely to touch, such as the floor, baseboards, window sills and toys. (Note: This measure should not substitute for testing and cleanup of lead.)

Wash children’s hands frequently to prevent them from eating lead dust

Household dust can contain high levels of lead from various sources. To reduce the chances of your children ingesting contaminated dust, wash your child’s hands and face before eating and keep pacifiers and other toys clean.

Content provider: This content is provided by Healthy Child Healthy World, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of children from harmful environmental exposures.

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