Lead Poisoning and Prevention

Learn how to protect your family from lead poisoning.
Table of contents

Lead Poisoning and Prevention

Gadget Guide

Don't use cardboard or plastic CO detectors that indicate the presence of high CO levels by changing color. They aren't very reliable, and they don't emit a sound to alert you.

Get the Lead Out

You may not think there's much you can do to protect your child from pollution in soil, air, and water, but in the case of one childhood nemesis—lead poisoning—you can do quite a lot.

Although lead is found in soil, water, and air, the main culprit is lead-based paint. Small children, who put everything in their mouths, ingest it through paint flakes or dust that accumulates wherever paint is disturbed, such as near window frames and doors.

Gadget Guide

You can buy do-it-yourself lead testing kits, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission says laboratory testing is considered more reliable. Costs range from $20 to $50 for lab testing.

Children with lead poisoning may have no symptoms, or their symptoms may mimic other illnesses such as the flu. But the effects can be devastating:

  • Mental retardation or learning disabilities
  • Shorter attention span or hyperactivity
  • Growth problems
  • Anemia or kidney problems

Although some parents think it's a problem only in dilapidated housing, lead-based paint can be found in the majority of homes built before 1978. Homes undergoing renovation may have extremely high levels because of all the paint dust that's generated.

Safety Savvy

State and local health departments and housing authorities can direct you to testing labs and contractors who can remove lead-based paint safely. If you are hiring a contractor, ask about his qualifications, experience with lead-based paint removal, and his plans to follow the guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Also, be sure to check his references.

Testing Your Child

Although routine screening for elevated lead levels is not necessary for all children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it for kids at risk. This includes children who live or visit often in a house or child-care facility built before 1950, or if the home was built before 1978 and has been renovated recently. Also test your child if a sibling or playmate has high levels because chances are they've been exposed to the same source.

Testing Your Home

If your home was built before 1978, it's wise to have it tested for lead-based paint if you are planning to renovate or if the paint is deteriorating. Remedies include covering lead paints with sealants or hiring a professional abatement company to remove it. Don't attempt removal yourself. Some states only allow certified professionals to remove lead-based paint.

In the meantime, wipe sills, frames, and doorways regularly with a wet cloth to remove lead dust and flakes. Mop the floors frequently, too. Wipe children's hands and faces before meals (a good idea under all circumstances!) and wash their pacifiers and toys often.

Other sources of lead paint:

  • Tap water from pipes lined or soldered with lead
  • Vinyl mini-blinds made outside the United States before July 1996
  • Antique furniture and old painted toys
  • Food stored in certain pottery dishes, especially those made in countries without lead regulations
  • Hobby materials such as stained glass, fishing weights, and buckshot