Lead Poisoning is Not Yesterday's News

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is Oct. 25-31.

  • ​While some contaminated old buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball, the threat of exposure to high levels of lead remains real for Americans living and working in unsafe conditions.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children living in 4 million households in the United States are being exposed to high levels of lead.

    Research indicates about 500,000 U.S. children between the ages of 1 and 5 have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the reference level at which the CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.

    Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over a period of months or years. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    Furthermore, the Mayo Clinic says signs and symptoms of lead poisoning often don't appear until dangerous amounts of lead have accumulated. Low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

    Where Does Exposure Occur?

    Typically, children are poisoned by lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings (built before 1978). Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil.

    In Flint, Michigan, a 4-year-old boy's blood lead level jumped from 2 micrograms to 6.5 after the city decided to pump tap water into homes from the Flint River. The decision drew harsh criticism because high levels of lead were discovered, an expected result in any public water system not providing corrosion control treatment, according to a draft report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations or work in auto repair shops also may be exposed to lead. Eating or drinking from dishes or glasses that contain lead poses a risk, too. Lead is a concern for pregnant women because it can result in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth, according to the EPA.

    Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC are sponsoring National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Oct. 25-31, 2015. This year's theme is, "Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future."

    The event will focus on the many ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead and prevent its serious health effects.

    Can You Minimize Risks?

    The EPA says simple steps, such as keeping your home clean and well-maintained, can go a long way in preventing lead exposure. The EPA also recommends you:

    • Get tested; pediatricians and local health departments can test children's blood to measure lead levels
    • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration
    • Address water damage quickly and completely
    • Keep your home clean and dust free; household dust from deteriorating lead-based paint or contaminated soil can be a major source of lead exposure for children
    • Let the water run to flush the tap, use only cold water to prepare food and drinks and use a water filter; lead in older pipes can leach into drinking water
    • Teach children to keep their hands and toys out of their mouths and wash their hands frequently
    • Eat well; prevention begins with a healthy diet rich in calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin C
    • Check your home to identify sources of lead

    Lead poisoning is preventable. The EPA says, "Give Your Child the Chance of a Lifetime."