Lead is a toxic metal that is harmful if inhaled or swallowed.
Lead is found in air, soil, dust,food and water. The greatest
exposure to lead is swallowing or breathing lead paint chips
and dust. Another risk is drinking water contaminated by lead
plumbing or water lines. Blood lead levels in the US dropped
dramatically after 1978 with the ban on lead in gasoline.
Blood lead levels continue to drop, but no safe threshold has
been identified. Current efforts and recommendations focus
on primary prevention.
Lead is especially dangerous to infants and toddlers because
they live close to the ground with their hands in dust and soil;
and their favorite way to explore anything is to put it in their
mouths. Also, growing bodies absorb more lead and growing
brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to harmful
effects.Blood lead levels peak around age 2 when most toddlers
stop chewing on everything in reach; then they decline without
treatment unless exposure continues.
Here’s the big worry: harmful effects are long lasting, perhaps
permanent, potentially including brain and nervous system
damage resulting in lower IQ and behavior problems (reduced
ability to pay attention and follow instructions, hyperactivity,
aggression, reading disabilities, hearing and balance problems).
These symptoms can occur even with low exposures.
The source of most lead poisoning in children is dust and chips
from lead paint on interior surfaces. Lead paint was taken off
the market in the 1970s. But it is still present in homes built before
1978. In most cases, lead paint in good condition is not a hazard.
But when it chips, peels, or flakes; and when it is sanded or
otherwise disturbed, it’s highly toxic. U.S. water sources are
lead free, but old plumbing can be toxic. (The Latin word for
plumbing translates literally as lead.)
Children living in poverty are most at risk. The American
Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all Medicaid-eligible
children be tested for lead at age1 and again at age 2.
Medicaid covers the two tests and requires one at age 2,
which may be too late to prevent damage. Other children
should be tested if their living conditions or parents’
Beginnings Parents Guide first addresses lead poisoning on a
page 26 (Book 1, 2-12 weeks).. The text focuses on avoiding
Baby’s exposure to lead carried on the shoes, clothes and skin
of parents/caregivers in certain occupations. The new 2012
edition will add content to aid parents in assessing and ensuring
the safety of their home, particularly the presence of lead paint
and lead plumbing.
Test all Medicaid eligible children at age 1 and 2. The current
edition suggests a lead test at six months, and includes a self-test
for parents to determine if their chid needs a lead test. This
information will be revised and relocated to reflect the policy
of testing all Medicaid eligible children at age 1 and 2 years,
and other at-risk children, including those who spend time in a
home built before 1978.
New Resources on this Beginnings Guides website. Find out about
lead in drinking water in your area. National Hotlines and the
National Lead Info Center. Info for families renting, repairing or
painting a home built before 1978. Find a Lead-Safe certified
contractor near you.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Environmental Health.
(2005) Policy Statement. Lead Exposure in Children: Prevention,
Detection, and Management. Pediatrics 116 (4) p1036-1046
Note, this policy was reaffirmed in 2009
National Lead Information Center 1-800-424-LEAD
(S - list the numbers for LEAD in parens) www.epa.gov/lead