Learn Where Lead Can Be to Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning

In recognition of Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (October 25-31, 2015), Sacramento County's Public Health Division is providing parents and community-based organizations with educational materials and trainings aimed at preventing childhood lead poisoning.

Often, parents are not aware of lead sources that are all too close at hand, lurking in household items and materials. In the case of a local 15-month-old boy with lead poisoning, referred to Sacramento County's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) by his primary physician, the cause of lead exposure was discovered through a home visit conducted by CLPPP's public health nurse and a specialist from the Environmental Management Department.

During their visit, the experts identified several possible sources of lead exposure: the father's fishing gear, a bracelet bearing religious significance worn by the boy, and a recent home remodeling. Ultimately, the culprit was found to be the boy's bracelet.

"Removing sources of lead from the home, as well as providing extensive education to the family about sources of lead and steps to take to prevent further poisoning, are critical to ensuring families are able to keep their children safe," said CLPPP director Cynthia Johnston.

The most common source of lead exposure in children is lead paint used in houses built before 1978. Dust or chips can come loose over time and end up on tiny hands and fingers after they touch the windowsills, ground, or soil where the paint has ended up.

Younger children are at a higher risk because they engage in more hand-to-mouth activity. But lead can travel into homes and vulnerable bodies in other ways, too, such as through pots or dishes imported from outside of the United States, hot water that has traveled through decaying lead-based pipes, some types of makeup, parents' work clothes, and some imported candies.

Keeping children from coming into contact with lead can prevent irreversible cognitive damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected."

Most cases of lead poisoning go undiagnosed and untreated because children with lead poisoning often do not look or act sick. Signs a child may have been exposed include tiredness, stomach aches, vomiting, hearing or vision problems, and trouble sleeping. Parents who think their child may have come into contact with lead should request a test from their doctor. Interventions vary depending on the amount of lead found in the blood.

Once a child is in treatment for lead poisoning, repeat blood tests are conducted to ensure lead levels in the blood are decreasing over time, explained Johnston. But prevention is key.

The CDC also emphasizes the caregiver 's role in preventing lead poisoning. "The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs."

Below are several prevention strategies that parents and caregivers can use to keep the children in their care safe.

  • Clean up lead dust by regularly wet-mopping floors, wiping down window ledges and washing surfaces with a bleach and water solution.
  • Never sand, scrape, or burn paint made before 1978.
  • Have children wash their hands often.  They should wash their hands before eating and sleeping, and after playing.
  • Do not use older, imported, or ceramic dishes for serving, preparing or storing food or drink unless it does not contain lead.  Items can be tested with a lead test kit purchased from a home improvement store.  They are low-cost and easy to use.  The test kits can also be used to test toys, jewelry and other items.
  • Do not let children drink out of the hose and run tap water for 30 seconds before using the water for drinking or cooking. 
  • Children should not eat imported candy or imported canned food items since these items may contain varying levels of lead.
  • Children should not use home remedies or cosmetics like azarcon, greta, sindoor or surma.  Always consult a doctor before giving a child any of these products.

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