The brains and nervous systems of young children are quite sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Indeed, because lead is more easily absorbed into the growing bodies of fetuses, infants, and children, they are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults. This danger has not gone away. Lead continues to be a serious health risk for children, even though the CPSC banned the use of lead-based paint for residential use in 1978. The reason is simple: lead is a hazard that still coats the walls of millions of homes. Once disturbed it can create a fine dust, which is dangerous for children as well as adults. Children with dangerous levels of lead in their blood may appear healthy. Because lead can pass through a woman’s body to a fetus, pregnant women should limit their exposure to lead.
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The primary sources of lead poisoning in children today are lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust. Lead-based paint is usually not a hazard if it is in good condition. However, problems occur when the paint peels or flakes off into chips or lead dust. The same kind of danger occurs when remodeling, renovation, or repainting is performed improperly, without safeguards to control lead dust. Your child doesn’t have to eat paint chips to be poisoned. If she touches lead-contaminated dust, then puts her hands in her mouth, the lead will enter her system. Limiting your child’s exposure is the best defense. If you suspect your home has lead paint, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.
Your child is at risk for lead poisoning if :
• Your home was built before 1978 or your child frequently
visits a home or building constructed before 1978.
• You or any other adult living in your home works with lead.
If you believe your child has been exposed to lead, speak with your pediatrician or health department. A blood test can detect levels of lead in your child’s body.
Watch Out for Peeling Paint and Wash It Away
- Keep an eye out for peeling paint or water leaks. Water leaks and moisture are the main cause of peeling paint. Sticking doors and windows can also damage paint.
- Make sure the peeling paint is promptly and safely repaired by someone trained in lead-safe work practices.
- Wash your baby’s hands and face before meals, naptime, and bedtime. Teach and reinforce this washing practice with older children, too. Hands contaminated with lead dust are as sure as clean hands to go into the mouth.
- In addition to washing bottles and pacifiers each time they fall on the floor, wash toys and stuffed animals, too.
- Regularly wash floors and high wear-and-tear areas such as window frames, window sills, doors, and door frames, and anywhere your child plays. Vacuum first. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuums work best. Be sure the vacuum does not leak dust and the HEPA filter has a good seal. Change the bag and filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Contact your local health departments—some have a HEPA vacuum loan program. Then use a wet mop with a mild detergent to get all the paint chips and lead dust. Hint: Use two mop buckets—one for soapy water and one for rinsing. Change the rinse water often.
If Your Home Was Built Before 1978, Get Your Home Professionally Tested
This is especially important if you plan to remodel or renovate. Many consumers find spot kits helpful as an initial screen for the presence of lead, but while they give instant results via changes in color, they are not as reliable as laboratory tests. Two types of professional testing are lead inspection and lead-risk assessment. An inspection discloses the lead content of every surface in your home, but it does not reveal either the level of danger or how you should proceed. An assessment tells you if lead is present and makes recommendations for how the lead can be controlled.
If Lead Must Be Removed, Don’t Do It Yourself
Removing lead is best left to professionals. Do not attempt to remove lead paint yourself. Hire a certified lead-abatement contractor. You are risking your own health if you remove lead improperly, and you may spread even more lead dust around your home.
Check the Soil in Your Yard and Take Appropriate Measures to Keep Lead OutExterior lead paint may have contaminated soil close to the house. Also, if your home is near a road that has seen a lot of traffic (and, thus, exhaust fumes) over the years, your soil may be contaminated from past use of leaded gasoline. Here’s what to do if your soil is tainted with lead:
- Cover lead-tainted soil with grass sod, pine bark mulch or gravel, or plant bushes.
- Encourage your child to play in grassy areas that are lead-free.
- Encourage everyone to remove their shoes before entering the house.
- Install generous entrance matting for others.
- Make sure you wash your child’s hands after he has played outdoors and teach him not to eat dirt.
- Don’t plant a home garden or serve food that has been grown in lead-laced soil.
Have the Water Tested
Testing your water does not have to be expensive; you can get mail-in kits from environmental laboratories for under $20. Even if you are on a municipal water system, your pipes may contain lead if your house is old. In homes built before 1988, lead solder may have been used in the plumbing. And leaded brass faucets were not phased out until the period between 1996 and 1998. To find out more about testing, call your local health department or the EPA’s hotline.
Stick to Cold Water for Drinking and Cooking
Because hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead, use only cold water for anything that will be ingested. Run the cold water for 30 to 60 seconds before catching it in a glass, cup, or pan, and if it has been more than 6 hours since you used the tap, allow the cold water to run until it becomes as cold as it will get, which may take up to 2 minutes or more. The longer water sits in your pipes, the higher the risk for lead. Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby formula. Once you have flushed your tap, you can store the cold water in your refrigerator for later use. If you are concerned about wasting water, catch it in a container and use it for watering your plants or washing clothes. Be sure to clean faucet screens regularly, taking out any solder particles caught by the screens. If there is a high level of lead in your pipes, you may wish to purchase a filter certified for lead removal or switch to a bottled water that is known to be safe for drinking and cooking.
Know What Other Products in Your Home May Contain LeadSome vinyl miniblinds made before July 1996 in China, Taiwan, Mexico, and Indonesia have been found to contain lead. When the plastic deteriorates due to sunlight and heat, lead dust forms on the blinds. If your child wipes her hands on the blinds - you know what she’ll do. Her hands, and the lead dust, will find their way into her mouth. Glazes for some dishes and mugs contain lead. Be especially careful when purchasing from abroad. If you have a lead-glazed, ceramic container, don’t heat, microwave, or serve hot food or drinks in it and don’t store acidic foods (such as fruit juices) in it. That lead crystal bottle someone gave your baby is just for show; don’t feed your baby with it! Any dish that is meant to be decorative should be just that—don’t serve food on it. Silver-plated items or plates made from pewter, brass, or bronze should never be used for serving food to children.
Proposition 65-Standards for Lead: When shopping for dishes, look for lead-free dishes or lead-safe dishes—in other words, those that meet California’s Proposition 65. Most tableware in common use does not pose a lead hazard. However, if the amount of lead that can leach into food from your dishes is greater than Proposition 65 levels, your dishes may pose a health risk. Ask the retailer or manufacturer if their product meets those standards or contact the Environmental Defense Fund.
Check Lead Hazards in Other EnvironmentsDay care centers and homes of family or friends that are visited often can also pose a lead hazard. If such homes or buildings were built before 1978, make sure the paint is in good condition. Also, many older school, park, and community playgrounds were painted with lead paint. Ask when the playgrounds were built and look for any signs of chipping paint or dust.
Lastly, make sure to keep up-to-date with recalled products. Inventory your entire home and make sure to check against the list of recalled items at www.recalls.gov or www.cpsc.gov. Sign-up for automatic e-mail recall notifications from the Consumer Products Safety Commission at http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Newsroom/Subscribe/.
Excerpted by permission from The Safe Baby, A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety, by Debra Smiley Holtzman.
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