More than 50% of American children have detectable blood lead levels, a new study reveals. And young children who live in places with lots of pre-1950s housing and low incomes have the greatest risk. In all, 58% of children from predominately Black neighborhoods had detectable lead levels in their blood, compared with 49% of kids in white neighborhoods.
Any detectable lead level is abnormal and potentially harmful, particularly in young children, the researchers point out. A neurotoxin, lead has been associated with brain and nervous system damage, as well as learning, behavior, speech and hearing problems. Lead exposure can also cause kidney damage.
Children under the age of three are most at risk as they tend to crawl around more and put things in their mouths.
“This means limiting exposure and testing” young children’s blood for lead “and having them retested periodically if results indicate a potentially unsafe level,” Dr. Jeffrey Gudin, senior medical advisor at Quest Diagnostics says.
Lead exposure isn’t always apparent, which is why testing is so critical.
Causes of lead exposure
Although lead exposure may not always be apparent, it helps to know the common causes to look out for.
Children can be exposed to lead through the following:
- Prenatal exposure. If you are pregnant and have been exposed to lead or have had high levels of lead in your blood in the past, the lead that is stored in the bones and can be released and increased during pregnancy and passed to your child.
- Soil and water. Children can be exposed to lead in soil by touching, breathing, eating fruits and vegetables grown in or near lead-contaminated soil or playing in lead-contaminated soil.
- Lead paint. Although the use of lead-based paints for homes, children’s toys and household furniture has been banned in the United States since 1978, lead-based paint can still be found on walls and woodwork in many older homes and apartments, which can result in children eating lead-based paint chips. Lead can also be found in glazes found on ceramics, china and porcelain, which leaches into food and toys and other products produced abroad.
- Children’s products. A child can also absorb lead found in children’s jewelry or products made of vinyl or plastic, such as bibs, backpacks, car seats and lunch boxes by putting them in their mouths, chewing on them or inhaling lead if the product is burned, damaged or deteriorating.
- Household dust. Household dust can contain lead from paint chips or soil brought in from the outside.
- Food. Food can be contaminated with lead during production, processing, packaging, preparation or storage. Some food containers and pots contain lead, such as lead-glazed pottery, leaded crystal glassware and canned foods.
- Home health remedies and certain cosmetics. Some traditional remedies, such as the indigestion treatments azarcon and greta, may contain lead. Also, women who wear makeup should be aware of some of the paints and pigments used in makeup and hair dye. They may contain lead.
- Artificial athletic fields. Artificial turf made of nylon or a nylon and polyethylene blend may contain unhealthy levels of lead dust, which could be inhaled or ingested by a child.
Protecting your child from lead exposure
Protecting your child from lead exposure may be a challenging task, especially when they are younger. Additionally, it may be hard to