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Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. According to 2012 Missouri blood lead testing data, 4,672 children under the age of 6 who were tested had blood lead levels between 5 and 9.9 µg/dL. 728 children under the age of 6 had blood lead levels equal or greater to 10 µg/dL, CDC’s previous level of concern.

Who is at risk?

Anyone, child or adult, could be at risk depending on where they live, their school, child care, or occupation.

All children under the age of 6 years old are at risk because they are growing so rapidly and because they tend to put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths.

However, children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk. Additionally, children of some racial and ethnic groups and those living in older housing are disproportionately affected by lead.

How are children exposed to lead?

Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in U.S. children. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. However, it is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem. Approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. More than 4 million of these dwellings are homes to one or more young children.

Lead can be found in many products:

  • Painted toys, furniture and toy jewelry - That favorite dump truck or rocking chair handed down in the family, antique doll furniture, or toy jewelry could contain lead-based paint or contain lead in the material it is made from. Biting or swallowing toys or toy jewelry that contains lead can cause a child to have an elevated blood lead level.
  • Cosmetics
  • Traditional Home or Folk Remedies
  • Candies - imported from Mexico
  • Food or liquid containers - Food and liquids stored or served in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain can become contaminated because lead can leach from these containers into the food or liquid.
  • Plumbing products - Materials like pipes and fixtures that contain lead can corrode over time.
    • Old plumbing might be lined with lead. If you have an old plumbing system (in homes built before 1970), which used copper pipes and lead solder, you may want to get your water tested. You can call your local health department or water department to find a laboratory that will test your water for lead content.
    • You also can take precautions to limit your exposure. If the water from the cold faucet has not been run for several hours, let cold water run for 30 seconds before drinking it.
    • And because hot water absorbs more lead than cold water, don't use hot tap water for meals.

Jobs and Hobbies

You could bring lead home on your hands or clothes, or contaminate your home directly if you:

  • Work with lead and/or lead-based paint (for example, renovation and painting, mining, smelting, battery recycling, refinishing old furniture, auto body, shooting ranges, screen printing).
  • Have a hobby that uses lead (for example, hunting, fishing, stained glass, stock cars, making pottery).
  • Lead can be found in shot, fishing sinkers and jigs, came and solder used in stained glass, weights used in stock cars, dyes and glazes used in pottery, and many other places.

If you have a job or hobby where you may come into contact with lead:

  • never put leaded materials (for example, fishing sinkers, lead came or solder for stained glass or leaded pottery clay or glaze) in your mouth,
  • avoid handling food or touching your mouth or face while engaged in working with lead materials and wash hands before eating or drinking following such activities,
  • shower and change clothes and shoes before entering your vehicle or coming home or after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products such as stain glass work, bullet making, or using a firing range,
  • launder your work and hobby clothes separately from the rest of your family's clothes,
  • keep all work and hobby materials away from living areas.

If you are an owner or operator of outdoor rifle, pistol, trap, skeet or sporting clay ranges, find out more about lead management at ranges.

Prevention

Lead poisoning is preventable. The goal is to prevent lead exposure to children before they are harmed. There are many ways parents can reduce a child’s exposure to lead. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead. Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be identified and controlled or removed safely.

  • It is important to determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where your child may spend a large amount of time (e.g., grandparents or child care). In housing built before 1978, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise.
  • Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
  • Pregnant women and children should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. They should not participate in activities that disturb old paint or in cleaning up paint debris after work is completed.
  • Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources. Until lead remediation is completed, parents should clean and isolate all sources of lead. They should close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls. You can also apply temporary barriers to block children’s access to other sources of lead.
  • Regularly wash children’s hands and toys. Hands and toys can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil. Both are known lead sources.
  • Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components. Because household dust is a major source of lead, parents should wet-mop floors and wet-wipe horizontal surfaces every 2-3 weeks. Windowsills and wells can contain high levels of leaded dust. They should be kept clean. If feasible, windows should be shut to prevent abrasion of painted surfaces or opened from the top sash.
  • Prevent children from playing in bare soil; if possible, provide them with sandboxes. Parents should plant grass on areas of bare soil or cover the soil with grass seed, mulch, or wood chips, if possible. Until the bare soil is covered, parents should move play areas away from bare soil and away from the sides of the house. If using a sandbox, parents should also cover the box when not in use to prevent cats from using it as a litter box. That will help protect children from exposure to animal waste.
  • Remember that pets can also bring lead into the home. Dogs and cats with access to the outdoors could play in lead-contaminated soil and track that soil into the home and to children. Keep pets on a leash and prevent their access to bare soil.

Lead and a Healthy Diet

Children with empty stomachs absorb more lead than children with full stomachs. Provide your child with four to six small meals during the day. The following nutrients can help protect your child from absorbing lead:

  • Iron-Rich Foods
    • Normal levels of iron work to protect the body from the harmful effects of lead. Good sources of dietary iron include:
      • Lean red meats, fish, and chicken
      • Iron-fortified cereals
      • Dried fruits (raisins, prunes)
  • Calcium-Rich Foods
    • Calcium reduces lead absorption and also helps make teeth and bones strong. Good sources of dietary calcium include:
      • Milk
      • Yogurt
      • Cheese
      • Green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Vitamin C-Rich Foods
    • Vitamin C and iron-rich foods work together to reduce lead absorption. Good sources of vitamin C include:
      • Oranges, orange juice
      • Grapefruits, grapefruit juice
      • Tomatoes, tomato juice
      • Green peppers

For healthy eating tips, games, recipes, and activity sheets, go to: www.choosemyplate.gov.

What are the Health Effects of Lead?

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Elevated blood lead levels can occur without any symptoms. Children who may appear healthy can have elevated blood lead levels.

Children

Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead. In children, the main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system. Even very low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, and hearing problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Anemia
  • In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

Pregnant Women

Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also be circulated from the mother’s blood stream through the placenta to the fetus. Lead in a pregnant woman’s body can result in serious effects on the pregnancy and her developing fetus, including:

  • Miscarriage
  • Reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth
  • Lead can also be transmitted through breast milk.

Adults

Lead is also harmful to other adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:

  • Nervous system effects
  • Cardiovascular effects, in increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Reproductive problems (in both men and women)

Testing and Reporting

Who should be tested?

  • Have your child tested for lead exposure, particularly when he/she is between 6 months and 3 years old. Children at this age spend a lot of time on the floor and often put things in their mouths.
  • All siblings of a child found to have an elevated lead level should be tested. 
  • All children receiving Medicaid benefits are required to be blood tested for lead at 12 and 24 months of age.
  • Newborns of women who had suspected or elevated blood lead levels during pregnancy should be tested.
  • Children and pregnant women who reside in a pre-1978 home, which is undergoing renovation, may require more frequent blood lead testing during the renovation process and after renovations are completed.
  • Any child under the age of 6 years will be tested annually if he/she lives in or visits for more than 10 hours per week an universal (high risk) testing area.
  • If you are unsure if your child should be tested, consult your child’s physician.

Methods of Testing

The choice of a sample collection method (venous or capillary) should be determined by the physician. Capillary sampling can perform well as an initial testing tool. Confirm capillary results with a venous blood draw if the results of the capillary are 10 µg/dL or greater.

Reporting

Doctors are required to report all lead test results to the state health department.

Additional testing information is located on our Lead Testing Guidelines and Risk Assessment Tool webpage.

Treatment

Treatment for lead poisoning varies depending on how much lead is in the blood. The most important part of therapy is reduction of lead exposure. Children with high lead levels in their blood (greater than or equal to 44 µg/dL) will likely be hospitalized to receive a medication called a chelating agent, which chemically binds with lead, allowing the body to excrete it naturally. Treatment options should be discussed with your child’s physician.

 

Visit these websites for additional information on lead:
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Other Department of Health and Senior Services websites of interest may include:
Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES)
Lead Licensing