Child lead poisoning is a completely preventable condition caused by a variety of environmental factors, most usually lead-based paint, contaminated household dust found on floors and windowsills, old pipes with lead-based solder, contaminated water, contaminated soil, contaminated industrial areas, air pollution, vinyl mini blinds, imported candy, lead-glazed pottery, fishing tackle, homemade medicines and toys especially antique toy soldiers and other war toys, cosmetics, or workers bringing home contamination on their clothing or in scraps of material from their jobs or hobbies. A child can absorb twice as much lead from the gastrointestinal tract as an adult. The problems of lead are multiplied when children live in older housing stock and industrial areas.

Much lead contamination is ingested by children, but may also be inhaled. Schools that use wells are particularly susceptible to lead problems. The total annual cost in 2011 for lead poisoning in children in the United States was $50.9 billion, and $977 billion in low- and middle-income countries in the world. (See endnote 56.) Lead poisoning can harm the child’s brain, kidneys, bone marrow, and other body systems. Low levels of lead in the child can reduce intelligence and cause disruptive behavior. At high levels, lead poisoning can cause coma, convulsions, and death.

The EPA reported that in 2005 about 250,000 American children aged 1-5 years old had elevated blood lead levels of 10 pg/dL, whereas the current standard is 5 pg/dL, although in fact no lead level in the blood is safe. However, recent studies have shown that blood lead levels well below this federal standard can lower IQ and have effects on behavior in children. An additional 6.4% of children aged 1-5 in the United States have a blood lead level higher than 5 pg/dL. Five times as many foreign-born children have elevated blood lead levels compared to US-born children.

Best Practices for Childhood Lead Poisoning (See endnotes 21, 52)

  • • If you live in an area built before 1978, or are in a situation where a child may have consumed lead, ask a physician or a public health clinic to do a blood test to determine if the child has any level of lead in the body.
  • • Utilize federal grants for low-income housing in assisting private and non-profit organizations in removing lead paint hazards in houses and other facilities.
  • • Check to see if there is any recall of toys that may contain lead.
  • • Do not drink, cook, or make baby formula using water from the hot water faucet.
  • • Run the cold water for 15-30 seconds first thing in the morning to flush out any lead in the system.
  • • Wash the child’s hands frequently, especially before eating.
  • • Remove peeling paint from surfaces in all areas where children can have access.
  • • If the soil is contaminated, plant grass so that the child will not have soil available to eat or inhale.
  • • Do not store food in open cans, especially those which are imported.
  • • Do not use pottery or ceramic ware that is improperly fired or highly decorative for food service or storage.
  • • Test all children who have newly come to the United States, between the ages of 6 months and 16 years, for potential lead problems.
  • • Only use state-certified companies to remove lead from surfaces, especially painted surfaces, and to perform dust handling after renovation.
  • • Only use state-certified people for conducting any form of lead-based paint abatement activities.
  • • Conduct research to improve and make less costly the removal of lead-based paints from structures.
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