The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly half a million children living in the United States have elevated blood lead levels that may cause significant damage to their health. This estimate is based on children with blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter.
Elevated levels of lead in the blood can affect the nervous system and potentially cause other adverse health effects. Exposure to lead is especially harmful to children under six years of age because their brains and spinal cords are still developing. For these children, even being around very low levels of lead can result in permanent damage, such as: reduced intelligence, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, behavioral problems, stunted growth, and/or hearing and kidney damage. Therefore, health officials consider any level of exposure to lead to be unsafe, particularly for young children.
“Preventing exposure to lead is the key,” says Dr. Dirk Haselow, State Epidemiologist. “Unfortunately,” he emphasizes, “the effects of lead toxicity in a young child can be devastating and lifelong.”
There are many ways to come into contact with lead: through cracked or peeling paint, household dust, bare soil, air, drinking water, food, ceramics, home remedies, hair dyes, and makeup. Much of the lead from these sources is too small for people to see. Children with elevated blood lead levels were most likely exposed to lead in their own homes from lead dust and lead-based paint chips, especially if that home was built before 1978.
The good thing is that there are steps your family can take to reduce exposure.
- Wash your child’s hands before meals and after playing outside.
- Provide your child with foods that are high in iron, calcium and Vitamin C.
- Frequently wash toys, pacifiers and other items your child uses regularly.
- Dust and wet mop weekly.
- Have your family members leave their shoes outside the door.
- Test your home for lead to determine the source of exposure.
- Ensure that any renovation and maintenance work is done in a lead-safe manner.
- Follow-up with your child’s doctor.
The only way to completely rid a pre-1978 home of lead is to abate it. Abatement should always be done by a state-certified contractor. Abatement includes: the removal of lead-based paint and dust-lead hazards, the permanent enclosure or encapsulation of lead-based paint, the replacement of components or fixtures painted with lead-based paint, and the removal or permanent covering of soil-lead hazards as well as all preparation, cleanup, disposal, and post abatement clearance testing activities associated with such measures.
An owner of a home built prior to 1978 who does not wish to fully abate lead hazards should be cautious when disturbing lead-based paint. Homeowners should only hire federally-certified Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) contractors, to ensure that the work is performed using lead-safe work practices. Lead-safe work practices protect the homeowner and residents from hazards associated with renovation, repair and painting activities. Done incorrectly, these activities can create hazardous lead dust when surfaces with lead paint, even from many decades ago, are disturbed.
To increase awareness of childhood lead poisoning prevention, the Arkansas Department of Health, along with other agencies, such as CDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is participating in National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (NLPPW) October 20-26.
This year’s NLPPW theme, “Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future,” underscores the importance of lead poisoning prevention. To prevent lead poisoning, it is important that you test your home and your child and employ state or federally-certified contractors for all renovation and rehabilitation projects.
During NLPPW, the Arkansas Department of Health’s Lead-based Paint Program will be conducting lead poisoning prevention activities at the following locations:
- Monday, October 21, 2013, Hilary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library (Little Rock), 10 a.m. – noon and 2 – 6 p.m.
- Tuesday, October 22, 2013, Laman Public Library (North Little Rock), 9 a.m. – noon.
- Wednesday, October 24, 2013, Home Depot (Conway), 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
For more information, contact the Lead-based Paint Program at the information below, or call 1-800-424-LEAD to speak with a national representative.