A dirty sock. The mail. Dog food. Paint chips.
As you have likely witnessed (on multiple occasions no doubt), young children like to put EVERYTHING in their mouths. While this is a totally normal part of a child's sensory exploration, they have not yet learned to discriminate between appropriate choices (food) and potentially harmful items.
For families living in older homes coated with lead-based paint, this habit can have especially dangerous consequences. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is NO safe blood level of lead in children and even the smallest of exposures may ultimately affect a child's IQ level (1).
The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a new recommendation to "prevent lead exposure before it starts" by discussing the risks of lead poisoning, and identifying possible sources of exposure, with mothers before they leave the hospital with their newborn infants (2).
Lead-based paint was banned in 1978 (1), although it's deteriorating remnants may still be found in older homes, thus increasing a child's risk for exposure to this dangerous neurotoxin. It is estimated that 24 million homes in the United States are a risk for lead-based paint exposure, not just through the paint itself, but through lead-contaminated house dust (1). Potential risks of lead exposure in children include increased irritability and hyperactivity, as well as the more long-term effects of difficulty learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss (3).
What Can be Done to Reduce Your Child's Risk of Lead Exposure?
1) Know Your Home
- Determine what year your home (or a home that your child spends a significant amount of time in or around) was constructed. If your home was built before 1978, you should assume that lead-based paint was used.
- If you are pregnant, or have young children, while living in an older home undergoing renovation, it may be wise to temporarily live elsewhere.
- Keep your young children away from areas that have chipping paint or are the perfect height for chewing (such as window sills).
2) Get Tested
- Visit your local health department to get information on testing your home for possible lead exposure (this includes testing your home's water).
- Before planting your garden, get the soil tested for lead. Vegetables grown in lead-contaminated soil can be very unsafe.
- Make sure your children's blood lead levels are tested regularly if they are under the age of 5.
3) Know Your Risk by Location
14% of children were found to have unsafe blood lead levels in six regions found in the United States. Most of these areas are industrial cities with older homes (3).
- New York:
- Oil City
4) Minimize Potential Exposure
- Regularly wash your child's hands.
- Take off your shoes before entering the home.
- Wet-mop your floors every few weeks.
- Only use cold water from the tap for drinking and preparing food (hot water is more likely to contain lead from the plumbing in your home).
- Be wary of certain candies imported from Mexico (ingredients used--such as chili powder or tamarind--may be contaminated with lead. The FDA advises that pregnant woman and children do not eat candies imported from Mexico) (5).
- Recycle (or sell to a collector) vintage toys that may be made with lead-based paint.
6) Follow a Healthy Diet
When given nutritious food choices, your body is actually an amazing detoxification system. Certain foods have properties that may potentially make them good chelators, or compounds that can help draw heavy metals from the body. While these foods are not the only answer, and are no substitute for medical help should your child have high blood levels of lead, they are healthy choices that are beneficial for the body in many ways. Some foods that have been associated with chelating heavy metals include (6):
- Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale)
- Pectin-containing fruits and vegetables (apples, cabbage, bananas, beets, grapes, carrots)
- Sulfur-rich vegetables (onions, garlic)
As the recent tragic disaster with lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan has shown us, lead poisoning is a serious health issue that we can be much more proactive about.
Photo Credit: Gerry Thomasen via Flickr.com.
(7) Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (2016).