Why is lead exposure more dangerous for children?
Because children are much smaller than adults, exposure to the same amount of lead leads to a much higher concentration of lead in the body. Children's brains are still developing. Once the brain is fully developed, around age 25, lead exposure is less likely to interfere with the structure of the brain, but young children can suffer serious developmental problems.
Childhood lead poisoning has been strongly linked to adult criminal behavior and violence on a dose-related basis, meaning the more severe the poisoning, the more serious the behavioral problems. Lead poisoned children suffer from irritability, lack of concentration, impulsiveness, aggression, and a substantial loss of I.Q., which severely limits their ability to function in school. However, the only way to know if your child has been exposed to lead is to have your child lead tested. Every child should be tested at 12 and 24 months as part of their well-child physicals. Don’t wait for symptoms, by then it could be too late.
How long does lead stay in the body?
Lead does not leave the body very well. Even minor exposure can build up over time into significant poisoning. Therefore, the length of exposure is more critical than the level of exposure. There is really no level of "insignificant" exposure if it is allowed to continue over time. This is not to say that high levels of exposure over short periods are safe.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
- Short attention span
- Poor appetite
- Behavioral changes (hyperactivity)
More severe signs include:
- Changes in consciousness
- Sight and hearing loss
Is there treatment for lead poisoning?
There is chelation (pronounced key-la-tion) therapy, which is dangerous and generally reserved for cases of high level lead poisoning in order to rapidly lower the blood lead level. Chelation removes lead and other minerals from the blood, but it may also stimulate lead that has been stored in the bones to be released into the bloodstream, which can actually increase the level of lead in the blood. Chelation can also remove important minerals from the blood, which can be fatal.
Can the damage from lead poisoning be reversed?
Lead poisoning is essentially a permanent condition, which involves quasi-permanent damage in that little or no recovery occurs. It is generally accepted that the cognitive damage from lead poisoning is irreversible. Lead is also known to reduce recovery from all types of brain damage. Currently, the only viable "treatment" is to prevent lead exposure by removing the lead source.
How does lead exposure occur?
Most children are exposed to lead through contact with lead-contaminated dust. Even very small amounts can pose a substantial health risk. Deteriorating lead paint is the number one source of lead dust. Small children can ingest it while crawling on the floor, or by putting their hands or other objects in their mouths. Lead from deteriorating paint can also contaminate the soil around a building – more than 75 percent of housing units in the U.S. have some level of lead contamination. The older the property, the greater the chance of contamination. Some other sources of contamination include plumbing fixtures, drinking vessels or food containers made with lead, and some folk remedies from Mexico, Central America, Asia, India and the Middle East.
How can I protect my children from lead poisoning?
Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to reduce the chance of your children being exposed to lead:
Test for lead - Request a lead blood test at your doctor’s office.
You can also call the Los Angeles County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 1(800) LA-4-LEAD to find certified risk inspectors or check this website: http://ww2.cdph.ca.gov/programs/CLPPB/Pages/LRCHomeLeadTest.aspx . Inexpensive lead test kits are available at many hardware stores but they are not very reliable.
Keep painted surfaces intact and clean - Even if lead paint is present underneath the current paint, there is little danger as long as the top layer is not peeling or flaking and the surface is kept dust-free. Dust painted surfaces with a wet rag or mop. Chipped areas can be temporarily covered with cloth tape to prevent lead dust from spreading.
Use a HEPA filter - Using a vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter will remove lead dust and paint chips from carpeting and drapes. Regular vacuums can release lead particles back into the air. If a HEPA-equipped vacuum is not available, steam-cleaning is the next best option. However, for those with asthma, it is best to use the HEPA vacuum.
Avoid contact with exposed soil - Contaminated soil is a major source of lead poisoning. You can reduce the chances of lead exposure by preventing your children from playing in bare soil, making sure they wash their hands and wipe their shoes when they come inside, and regularly washing toys that have been used outside.
Avoid the use of folk remedies - A number of traditional medicines used by Latino/Hispanic, East Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures contain high amounts of lead, in some cases as high as 90 percent. These medicines are usually in powder form. The only way to tell if a medicine contains lead is to have it tested in a laboratory. A few remedies that have been found to contain lead are Greta and Azarcon (also known as Azarcon, Coral, Liga, Maria Luisa or Rueda) from Mexico, Albayalde from El Salvador, Ghasard from India, Pay-Loo-Ah from Cambodia, and Ba-Baw-San from China.
Do not let your child eat candy imported from Mexico - Most candy made in Mexico is now made in factories, where lead sometimes finds its way into the product. Although steps are being taken to remedy this, currently the safest course of action is to avoid Mexican candies, especially those made with chili or tamarind, unless it’s on the safe candy list. For updated information and materials, go to www.leadinmexicancandy.com.
Make sure your child's toys are lead-free - Lead has been found in a variety of children's toys, both imported and domestic. A number of these have been recalled. For a list of recalled products, go to www.cpsc.gov.