Next week, October 25-31, 2015, is lead poisoning prevention week. The campaign to raise public awareness of lead poisoning in children reflects a global initiative led in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year’s theme is protecting children from lead poisoning in homes and child-care facilities. Lead poisoning is the number one environmental health threat in the U.S. for children ages six and younger, according to the EPA. If you need to put a face on this danger, think of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore teen who died while in police custody earlier this year, and who reportedly had learning problems and significant early exposure to lead.
But the risk of lead poisoning affects all children. Nearly half a million children living in the United States have elevated lead levels in their blood that may cause significant health damage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. The long-term effects of lead in children include learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity, impaired hearing and brain damage.
Paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products used to contain lead. Now we know the dangers. House paint is almost lead-free, leaded gasoline has been phased out, and household plumbing is no longer made with lead materials. But lead does not break down naturally.
Major sources of lead exposure to children in the U.S. include lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in deteriorating buildings. With respect to homes and child-care facilities, the U.S. banned lead-based paint for residential uses in 1978. But lead paint still remains on old buildings, sometimes covered under layers of newer paint. Children also can be exposed to lead from contaminated drinking water and soil.
You can’t see, taste or smell lead in or around your home. As a result, the risk of lead exposure in children remains a problem. But there are many steps parents and child-care custodians can take to reduce that risk.
Pay attention to disclosure statements.
Currently, owners of residential rental properties built before 1978 must disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Sellers of properties built before 1978 also must disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards.
Get your child tested.
Children who appear healthy still may have high lead levels. You can’t tell if a child has lead poisoning unless you have him or her tested. The District of Columbia requires all children to get screened for lead exposure at both one and two years of age, according to the Department of Energy and Environment website.
Hire a person with special training to remove lead paint.
Environmental Protection Agency requirements apply to contractors, landlords, window replacement firms and other service providers who renovate, repair or paint in a way that disturbs lead-based paint in homes, child-care facilities, schools and other child-occupied facilities built before 1978. Those providers must be certified and follow EPA-approved lead safe work practices. They also must provide an EPA informational booklet about the hazards of lead-based paint to the homeowner before starting the work.
Keep your child’s play areas as clean and dust free as possible.
Clean floors, window frames, window sills and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge, or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead. Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty and dusty areas. Children can swallow lead or breathe lead-contaminated dust from playing in dust or dirt and then putting their fingers or toys in their mouths.
Wash everything that may go into your child’s mouth.
Wash toys, cleaning utensils and containers. Wash pacifiers and bottles after they fall on the floor. Keep extras handy. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly. Make sure your children wash their hands before meals, nap time, and bedtime. Most homes built before 1978 contain leaded paint. Lead paint may be on window frames, walls, the house’s exterior or other surfaces. Lead dust from repairs or renovations of older buildings can remain in the building long after the work is completed.
Make sure your child does not chew anything covered with lead paint.
Make sure your child does not chew on painted window sills, cribs, playpens or anything else that might be covered with lead paint. Even tiny pieces of peeling or chipping lead paint are dangerous if eaten.
Home repair should follow EPA lead work practices.
The EPA requirements do not apply to individuals doing work on their own home. But the EPA recommends that homeowners use the same lead-safe practices that are required for contractors.
Healthy eating can reduce risk of lead poisoning.
Feed your children eggs, lean red meat, and beans for iron. Feed them dairy products for calcium. Children who consume enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead.
Use common sense food storage practices.
Don’t store food or liquid in lead crystal glassware, or imported or old pottery. If you reuse plastic bags to store or carry food, keep the printing on the outside of the bag.
Don’t burn painted wood.
When disposing of wood from home cleaning or simply trying to keep that winter fire going, don’t burn painted wood. It may contain lead.
Angie’s List: Lead Poisoning Prevention Week
Angie’s List: Lead Poisoning Prevention Week