October 26, 2020
More than 3 million U.S. families risk serious harm to their children's health because of lead-based paint in the home, according to U.S. health, housing and environmental agencies.
Many homes built before 1978 still have the original lead-based paint, which can seep into the bloodstream.
Even low levels of lead in the blood can have an irreversible toxic effect. Lead poisoning can lower a child's IQ and the ability to pay attention in the classroom and at home. Other symptoms are abdominal pain, fatigue, hearing loss and seizures, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Living near industrial plants that work with lead, exposure to lead-containing products like leaded crystal glassware or recently emigrating from a country with high levels of lead in the environment also can put children at increased risk of lead poisoning.
This week marks National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
To raise awareness of the dangers of lead poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined forces with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protective Agency and other partners to urge families to have their homes and children tested.
"Together, we can eliminate childhood lead poisoning as a public health problem by strengthening blood lead testing, reporting and surveillance, while linking exposed children to recommended services," said Patrick Breysse, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health.
"CDC is committed to help address this threat and improve health outcomes for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens – our children."
Testing blood lead levels is the best way to tell if a child has been exposed to lead poisoning. Parents and guardians can contact their child's pediatrician to schedule the test if they suspect exposure. Children covered by a Medicaid are eligible for free testing.
The CDC recommends various actions based on a child's blood lead level. Any child with a blood level of at least 20 micrograms per deciliter should receive a neurodevelopmental assessment, lab work, abdominal X-ray and a home environmental investigation. Those with blood levels above 45 micrograms per deciliter also should undergo oral chelation therapy and consider hospitalization.
Of course, prevention is always the best medicine. If a parent suspects lead in their home, they should contact their local health department about testing the paint and dust in their home. Lead-based paint removal must be performed by a specialized contractor.
Philadelphia's Lead and Healthy Homes Program provides home inspection to families of children whose blood lead levels are greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter. Some families also may be eligible for remediation assistance.
Lead exposure is especially dangerous for young children who are at the crawling stage of development. Removing shoes before entering the house can prevent bringing lead-contaminated soil in from outside. So can regularly cleaning the floors of the home.
Federal law gives anyone moving into a new home, whether they are buying or renting, the right to get a lead poisoning risk assessment. Any remodeling that disturbs lead-based paint also increases the risks to children.
Call the National Lead Information Center's hotline 1-800-424-LEAD for more information about preventing lead exposure.