Are You At Risk?
Lead poisoning is the greatest environmental danger facing American children. In a recent examination, about 8.9 percent of children under five–and 11.5 percent of toddlers between one and two years–have levels of lead high enough to be considered a health hazard. The highest rates are among children from low-income, inner-city families. However, many upper-middle class youngsters who live in homes built before 1950 are also at risk.
Lead-based paint has always been a major source of lead in the home. Children who grow up in deteriorating buildings amid peeling paint and paint dust are placed in a potentially hazardous environment. Fortunately, this toxic paint was banned for residential use in 1978. Today, there are still many renovated and poorly maintained homes that contain traces of lead contamination.
Another way lead can affect you and your children is through drinking water. These occurrences, however, occur mostly in older homes. The soil in and around your yard may also have a high lead content. Those who live near busy streets or factories that handle lead are at a higher risk. Some dishware can leak lead after being subjected to heavy scouring or frequent exposure to acidic substances, such as vinegar, orange juice or coffee.
What Should Be Done?
In addition to seeing that your children are regularly screened, parents should identify and try to eliminate potential sources of lead in the environment. A few preventive measures should always be taken:
- Have children from 9 months to 6 years old (those most susceptible) screened regularly.
- Never allow children to eat snow, dirt or paint chips.
- Make sure children wash their hands before eating.
- Use lead-free paint on walls, toys, etc.
- Have your tap water and soil checked for lead.
Home testing kits are available or your local health department can direct you to contractors trained in lead inspection and removal.
Hazardous Warning Signs
Many recent studies show a link between chronic exposure to lead and mental deficiencies, school failure and misbehavior in children. Lead exposed children consistently scored lower than others in IQ, language skills, attention span, school performance, fine motor skills, reaction time and hand-eye coordination. There are also noticeable physical signs that may be present when an individual is repeatedly exposed to lead. For instance, common signs are paleness of the skin, vomiting, and listlessness. In the advanced stages, delirium, seizures and swelling of the brain may occur.
The battle against lead in the environment seems to be working, but the war is not over. With a special effort on the part of all people–especially parents–this hazardous poison can be eliminated.
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