Lead Poisoning In Children
Lead poisoning in children is typically caused by inhaling or consuming lead present in dust, bits of old paint or dirt, or by drinking water from pipes that have been lined or soldered with lead. Lead can also be present in food cooked or stored in ceramic dishes. It is best not to serve acidic substances such as orange juice in ceramic dishes, since acids can leach the lead out into the food.
In the US, lead was permitted as an ingredient in house paint before 1978. So it is likely to still be present on walls, doorjambs and window frames in older homes. As paint ages, it chips, peels and comes off in as dust. During the first 2-3 years of life, children typically go through a phase of putting everything into their mouths - including toys, sand and anything else within reach. While this is perfectly natural behavior, consuming a dangerous substance like lead can cause serious health problems.
While there has been a noticeable decline in lead levels in children's blood, somewhere between half a million and one million US children still have unacceptably high levels in their system. Living in a city, being poor and being African American or Hispanic are all risk factors that increase the chances of having elevated blood lead levels.
Lead accumulates in a child's body - and it can adversely affect multiple parts of the body including the brain. For instance, lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Lead also can cause stomach and intestinal problems, loss of appetite, anemia, headaches, constipation and hearing loss - even short stature. Although higher lead levels are usually associated with greater health problems, the extent of damage for any individual child cannot be predicted based on blood lead levels alone.
If a home is suspected to contain lead, paint dust or chips should be cleaned using water containing detergent, which will help bind any lead present into the water. Keeping surfaces (floors, window areas, porches, etc.) clean lower the chance of a child being exposed to lead-containing dust. It's also a good idea to have children wash their hands often, particularly before meals.
Repairing older homes can potentially generate dangerous amounts of lead dust, which is why seeking expert advice before starting repairs is always a good idea. Renovation projects that disturb lead paint need to be done by individuals with special training in lead-safe work practices. Sanding and scraping of paint can generate large amounts of dust, and exposure to this dust during renovation is typically how children get lead poisoning. In fact, the safest approach is for the entire family to move out of the home while renovations are ongoing and until the final cleaning has been completed.
Routine renovation of older housing is a risk factor for childhood lead poisoning, but the contribution to children's blood lead levels is poorly defined for children with relatively lower exposure levels. To assess this, researchers followed 276 children from 6-24 months of age - they also conducted surveys of renovation activities and residential lead hazards and obtained blood lead level readings every six months. .
Study researchers found that children whose housing underwent interior renovation had a 12% higher mean blood lead level by two years of age, compared with children whose housing units were not renovated. Compared to children in non-renovated housing, children whose housing units underwent renovation in the prior month had a 17% higher mean blood lead level at two years of age, whereas children whose housing renovation occurred in the prior 2-6 months had an 8% higher mean blood lead level. In other words, even routine interior housing renovation gave rise to an increase in children's mean blood lead levels.
Children who have lead poisoning rarely show any physical symptoms. Learning and behavior problems may show up in preschool, or they may not show up until the child reaches school age. At that point the child may have trouble keeping up with class work - especially when they need to learn more complicated tasks like reading or arithmetic.
The only sure way to know if a child has been exposed to excessive lead is to have him or her properly tested. A blood test for lead at the ages of 1 and 2 years is recommended for children at high risk for lead exposure. Children who have lead poisoning should immediately be moved from the home where they are being exposed. In rare instances, they may even require treatment with a drug that binds lead in the blood and improves their ability to eliminate it from their system. Treatment may also involve hospitalization and a series of injections.
Some children with lead poisoning require more than one course of treatment. Unfortunately, standard treatments for lead-poisoned children produce only a short-term lowering of their lead levels and do not reduce their chances of developing behavioral or learning problems. It is an unfortunate fact that children who have had lead poisoning will need to have their physical health, behavior and academic performance monitored for many years, along with receiving special schooling and therapy to help them overcome their learning and behavior problems. Clearly, the best treatment for lead poisoning is prevention.