There is no question that lead poses a serious health risk to children. Exposure to lead can lower a child’s intelligence and lead to learning disabilities, hyperactivity, and reduced attention span.
Even though doctors and scientists cannot dispute the harmful effects of lead, they cannot seem to agree on just how much lead is dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of a child’s blood as the threshold at which problems begin. About 1.6 % of American children ages one to five have blood lead levels (BLL) above this limit, according to the CDC. However, even levels below the cut-off can cause neurological problems, the CDC said in a recent report. Scientific research indicates that there really is no safe threshold for children’s blood lead levels.
Lead paint is one of the leading sources of lead exposure in children, along with contaminated soil, dust, and drinking water. Most homes built before 1960 contain lead paint that’s about four million homes in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Home remodeling makes up a big part of children’s lead exposure, experts say.
Regardless of which blood lead level is most dangerous, it’s a good idea to avoid exposing your kids to lead as much as possible. The following checklist, from the book 365 Ways to Keep Kids Safe (Balloon Press), can help you spot potential lead dangers and keep your kids away from this toxic substance.
*Test your children for lead. This is especially important if you live in an older home. A routine lead level test is simple to take an usually costs around $25. Have your children screened for lead once a year until they reach age three, then once every five years.
*Test your home for lead. A home lead test is the only way to determine if you have lead in your home, and if so, how much there is. Don’t try to test yourself, though. Although many companies advertise do-it-yourself tests, these tests are unreliable. You’re better off calling an EPA-certified examiner. To find an examiner, call the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) at 1-800-424-LEAD.
*Check for lead outside. Contaminated soil is a significant source of lead, especially when that soil is located close to high-traffic roads or old buildings. Your kids can easily track in lead-tainted dirt when they go outside to play. If you are concerned about lead near your home, the EPA-certified examiner you call to check the inside of your home can also test the soil outside of it.
*Know where your water travels. Many homes contain lead pipes, which can leech lead into your drinking water. To clean up your water, the EPA advises that you use a NSF International water filter. To learn more about these filters, visit the NSF website at http://www.nsf.org/consumer/drinking_water/dw_treatment.asp?program=WaterTre. You can also contact your local water authority to find out whether or not they are doing anything to reduce lead in the water supply, and to have your water tested for lead.
*Change your wallpaper. If your home contains wallpaper that was made before 1978, it may contain lead. Consider removing it and painting or re-wallpapering your walls.
*Check your blinds. Several types of mini-blinds, especially those made in the Far East, can contain high levels of lead. Ask your lead examiner to check your blinds. If they do contain lead, have them replaced.
*Be aware of playground lead dangers. Metal equipment on public playgrounds may be covered with lead paint, and if the equipment is not well maintained that paint can chip onto the ground and come into direct contact with children. Call your local department of recreation and ask if the playground contains any lead paint.