The National Minority Quality Forum has launched the Lead Risk Index to help health-care practitioners, policymakers, advocacy groups and industry gain a full understanding of childhood lead poisoning at the local level.
Nationally, an estimated 750,000 children under age six have an elevated blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter or above, the level that represents the CDC’s reference value for lead poisoning in children.
It’s old, but it’s not history
There’s a misperception that lead poisoning is a problem of the past. This misunderstanding has resulted in undiagnosed lead poisoning and, consequently, increased potential for developmental issues in our children.
Consider the primary source of lead poisoning: most buildings (schools, apartments, houses) built before 1978 likely have lead paint. In addition, lead can be found in soil (from leaded gasoline emissions, paint dust, and around industrial processes), drinking water (through lead solder and piping), the air (emitted by industrial sources and leaded aviation fuel) and, most surprising, in imported goods including toys, vinyl window blinds, jewelry, furniture, artificial plants and trees – anything manufactured with lead-based paint/products.
How are people exposed to lead?
Lead paint chips and dust are a primary source of lead inside the home every day and particularly when undergoing renovations. Lead dust from opening windows and doors is easily ingested by small children, as children and babies often put their hands (that may have lead dust on them) in their mouths. Lead dust in the air can be ingested by simply breathing. Drinking water tapped through old plumbing with lead pipes or soldering can contain high levels of lead. Finally, imported goods manufactured with, or tainted by, lead-based products, can be very dangerous when small children put them in their mouths.
Outside the home, soil can be contaminated by industrial sources, deterioration of exterior lead paint on buildings or a natural high level of lead. Lead is in the air and soil around airports, ore and mining facilities and other industrial sources – even factories closed for decades.
Lead does not decay or decompose, so it is around forever.
What are the effects of lead poisoning?
Children – If not detected early, children with elevated levels of lead in their blood can suffer from brain and nervous system damage that can result in behavioral, developmental and learning problems. Children can also exhibit slow growth, hearing problems, headaches, reduced postnatal growth, delayed puberty, and in rare acute cases, seizures, coma and even death.
It is important to note that often children don’t show symptoms of lead poisoning, or they may be mistaken for those of common illnesses like a cold or flu. The best way to detect lead poisoning is to get a blood test from your pediatrician.
Pregnant Women – When exposed to lead over time, it is naturally stored in our bones along with calcium; when calcium is released from a pregnant woman’s bones, lead is also released and can expose the developing fetus. Elevated levels of lead in the blood of pregnant women can result in reduced fetal growth, lower birth weight, and possibly in preterm birth.
Adults – Adults can suffer from hearing and vision impairment, reproductive problems (in men and women), renal dysfunction, high blood pressure and hypertension, nerve disorders and memory and concentration problems.
How can I prevent lead exposure?
Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and identifying and treating those who have been poisoned by lead.
There are many ways parents can reduce a child’s exposure to lead. Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be identified and controlled or removed safely. Talk to your doctor or local health department about how to control and remove sources of lead safely.
Ensuring children have good nutrition is another way to help them combat the effects of lead. Parents should ensure their children eat healthy, low-fat foods high in iron, calcium and Vitamin-C.