You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and most children with lead poisoning do not even have symptoms. Even at high levels of lead in the blood, common symptoms such as stomach aches and anemia are similar to illnesses that are much less serious. But, over time, children exposed to very high levels of lead can suffer seizures, severe brain damage, coma and death. Even relatively low levels of lead exposure in children have been linked to lower intelligence, decreased hearing, hyperactivity, attention deficit, and developmental problems that affect the ability to learn.
Children under the age of 6 are especially hurt by exposure to lead. Their growing bodies absorb more of the substance. In addition, their brains and nervous systems are particularly sensitive to lead’s damaging effects. Babies and toddlers often put their hands, as well as other objects, in their mouths. When they do this, they may also be swallowing or breathing in lead dust.
Sources of Lead Paint
Lead-based paint was used in many houses built before 1978. Paint chips, found both inside and outside of the house, can be all too easily ingested by children. The soil around a dwelling can also pick up lead from exterior paint or residue from leaded gas that was once used in cars. Children can swallow or inhale lead dust by playing in or near soil around the yard. When this soil is tracked into the house, it becomes part of household dust, along with deteriorating lead-based paint found indoors.
Older buildings such as schools may also present risks of contact with lead. As recently as February, 2012, lead paint chips were detected in a Virginia elementary school. Other sources of lead exposure are drinking water from plumbing pipes containing lead, old painted toys and furniture, food and liquids that have been stored in lead-glazed pottery or porcelain, and hobbies that use lead, such as furniture refinishing and making pottery and stained glass.
What To Do If Parents Suspect Lead Exposure
Parents who suspect their child has been exposed to lead should consult a doctor right away for a test of the child’s blood lead level (BLL). The normal level of blood lead is zero and there is no safe level of lead in the blood. For children ages 1-5, levels of 5 or above are of very serious concern. Parents should also contact the Department of Health and arrange for a full inspection of their living quarters. If lead conditions in the home create a risk of a BLL of 5 or above, parents should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible to pursue appropriate legal action.
Only a specially trained and certified lead-abatement contractor can permanently remove a lead hazard. Parents who suspect a lead hazard in their home can take immediate temporary measures to reduce the risk to children. In addition to contacting their child’s doctor and the Department of Health, parents should report peeling or chipped paint to the landlord. Parents should clean up paint chips, regularly wash floors, window frames and window sills, clean or remove shoes before entering the home, keep children’s play areas clean, regularly wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals, and wash children’s hands before meals, nap time and bed time.
Lead Concentrations Have Declined, But Children Still At Risk
The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in houses in 1978. The U.S. government also removed lead from gasoline in the 1970s and cut down on smokestack emissions from lead smelters and other industrial sources. Although there has been a steep decline in airborne lead exposure, certain counties may still be exceeding permissible levels. Furthermore, children may continue to be at risk from airborne lead from sanding or heating old paint or from burning or melting automobile batteries. Overall, lead concentrations have declined in all children. Poor children, and black children, however, continue to have higher concentrations of lead in their blood than other children.