Public Health Column: How to protect children from lead poisoning and test for it
Public Health Column from the Genesee County Health Department:
Do you have small children or grandchildren? Are you pregnant and getting your older home ready for your new baby? Do you live in a house or send your children to a day care center built before 1978? Do you know the last time your child was tested for lead poisoning?
If you don’t know the answer to the last question, talk with your primary care provider or contact your local Health Department and ask about testing.
Lead is a metal that can harm children and adults when it gets into their bodies. Lead can be found in dust, air, water, soil, and in some products used in and around the home. Most homes built before 1978 have old lead paint, often under newer paint.
If paint peels, cracks, or is worn down, the chips and dust from the old lead paint can spread onto floors, windowsills and all around your home. Lead dust can then get onto children's hands and toys, and into their mouths.
Generally there are no signs or symptoms to help you know if your child has lead poisoning. A person with lead poisoning usually does not look or feel sick. The best way to find out if your child has lead poisoning is by testing.
The most common test is a quick blood test. It measures how much lead is in the bloodstream. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention, delayed development, and academic achievement.
New York State requires doctors to test all children with a blood lead test at age 1 year and again at age 2 years. At every well-child visit up to age 6, health care providers must ask parents about any contact their child might have had with lead.
If there's been a chance of contact, providers are required to test for lead again. Parents can ask their child's doctor or nurse if their child should get a lead test, and what the lead test results mean.
“Children under the age of 6 years old are at risk because they are growing so rapidly and because they tend to put their hands and/or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths,” said Brenden Bedard, director of Community Health Services of Genesee and Orleans Counties.
In addition to children, pregnant women should be tested for lead as well.
“Expectant mothers who live in an older home and are exposed to lead dust can inhale the particles and pass it on to their baby," Bedard said. "Your doctor should discuss proper prenatal care to reduce your exposure to lead during your pregnancy and how to prevent lead exposure to your baby once he/she is born.”
The good news is that you can protect your family from lead poisoning. Talk to your healthcare provider about potential lead sources in your house or anywhere your kids spend long periods of time, such as a daycare or a relative’s house.
Here are some ways to reduce or eliminate your exposure to lead/ lead dust:
Fix peeling lead paint and make home repairs safely.
Keep children away from peeling or chipped paint.
Before making repairs in a home built before 1978, call your local health department to learn how to work safely and keep dust levels down.
Children and pregnant women should stay away from repairs that disturb old paint, such as sanding and scraping. They should stay away until the area is cleaned using wet cleaning methods and a HEPA vacuum (not dry sweeping).
Wash dust off hands, toys, bottles, windows and floors.
Wash your child's hands and face after play, before meals, and before bed.
Wash toys, stuffed animals, pacifiers and bottles with soap and water often.
Mop floors often, and use damp paper towels to clean window wells and sills.
Be careful not to bring lead home on clothes, toys, or jewelry.
Keep lead out of your food and tap water.
Serve foods that have calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
Lead is in some children's jewelry, toys, keys, and old furniture. Sign up for children's product recall alerts at www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.
Some jobs and hobbies can involve contact with lead. These include: painting, plumbing, construction, car repair, or working with firearms, stained glass or pottery.
To lower lead dust, change work clothes before going home; take shoes off at your door; wash work or hobby clothes separately; wash face, hands and uncovered skin before going home.
Let tap water run for one minute before using it, if it hasn't been run for a few hours. Town and well water could have lead from old plumbing.
Only use cold tap water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. Boiling your water does not get rid of lead.
Use lead-free dishes. Don't serve or store food in pewter, crystal, or cracked pottery.
These foods help keep lead from being stored in your child's body:
Foods with calcium: milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, and green, leafy vegetables.
Foods with iron: beans, lean meat, fortified cereal and peanut butter.
Foods with vitamin C: oranges, orange juice, grapefruit, tomatoes, green peppers.
For information about Health Department services contact: Genesee County Health Department at 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website here.