What is lead poisoning? How do children become lead
Lead poisoning is a disease. It is most dangerous for children under six
years old. In young children, too much lead in the body can cause permanent
harm to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. Even at low
levels, lead in children's bodies can slow growth and cause learning and
behavioral problems. The main way children get lead poisoned is by
swallowing lead paint dust. They do not have to chew on leaded surfaces or
eat paint chips to become poisoned. Most childhood lead poisoning is caused
by children's normal behavior of putting their hands or other things, such
as toys, in their mouths. If their hands or these objects have touched lead
dust, this may add lead to their bodies. Children can also be exposed to
lead from such other sources as lead-contaminated soil or water, but these
sources alone rarely cause lead poisoning. Lead can be found in soil near
old, lead-painted houses. If children play in bare, leaded soil, or eat
vegetables or fruit grown in such soil, or if leaded soil is tracked into
the home and gets on children's hands or toys, lead may enter their bodies.
What are the symptoms of lead
poisoning? How is it detected?
Most lead poisoned children have no special symptoms. The only way to find
out if a child is lead poisoned is to have his or her blood tested. If your
child has been exposed to lead, or if you do not know if your child under
age six has been screened for lead, ask your child's doctor, other health
care provider or your local board of health for a simple screening test of
What is the treatment for
Treatment of a lead poisoned child starts with finding and removing the lead
hazards to which the child is exposed. This will include a lead inspection
of the child's home, and if lead hazards are identified, deleading of the
home. Medical treatment depends on the child's blood lead level and the
child's response to the removal of the lead source. Parents will be taught
about protecting their child from lead exposure. They will need to watch the
child's progress through frequent blood tests. If necessary, the child may
receive special drugs to help rid his body of excess lead. With this
treatment, drugs are given daily for as long as several weeks. Sometimes
this must be done more than once. A child who has been lead poisoned will
need a lot of blood tests for a year or more. He or she should be tested for
learning problems before starting school.
Are children under six years
old the only ones at risk of lead poisoning?
No. Young children are usually more easily and seriously poisoned than older
children or adults, but lead is harmful to everyone. Lead in the body of a
pregnant woman can hurt her baby before birth. Older children and adults who
live in older housing with lead paint hazards may become exposed to lead and
could potentially develop lead poisoning through home renovation. Most lead
poisoning in adults is caused by work-related exposure or home renovation.
Even hobby supplies, such as stained glass, bullets and fishing sinkers, can
expose people to lead. Lead poisoning in adults can cause high blood
pressure, problems having children for both men and women, digestive
problems, nerve disorders, memory loss and problems concentrating, and
muscle and joint pain. Adults who have any of these symptoms and who have
been exposed to lead should consider being screened for lead. Those who are
regularly exposed to lead through their work are required by law to have
their blood tested once a year for lead.
What are the dangers of lead
paint in homes, and when was it used?
Lead paint in homes causes almost all childhood lead poisoning. Lead is so
harmful that even a small amount of fine lead dust that cannot be seen can
poison a child. Lead paint covered by layers of nonleaded paint can still
poison children, especially when it is disturbed, such as through normal
wear and tear, or home repair work. When such lead paint is on moving
surfaces, such as windows, fine lead dust is released through normal use.
This dust settles, where it can be easily picked up on children's toys and
fingers. Household paint with poisonous (now illegal) levels of lead was in
use in California from the 1690s until 1978. In 1978, the U.S. government
banned lead from house paint. Lead can be found in all types of pre-1978
homes: homes in cities, suburbs or the countryside; private housing and
state or federal public housing; single-family and multi-family homes. The
older the house, the more likely it is to contain lead paint. The older the
paint, the higher the likely lead content.