Lead Exposure…. What Are the Risks?

Despite improvements in environmental policies, lead exposure prevention programs and implementation of surveillance systems at local and state health departments, lead poisoning remains one of the top childhood environmental health problems. According to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention National Surveillance Data report, in 2014, a total of 12,885 children in the United States under the age of 6 were confirmed to have high blood lead levels (CDC’s National Surveillance Data 1997-2014). In today’s blog we explore the adverse impacts of lead poisoning on infants and young children and discuss some preventive tips from the experts.  We will also direct you to several Growing Great Kids tools and resources around this topic.

What is lead and why is it toxic to our systems?  Lead is a soft metal found free in nature.  Much of its presence in the environment stems from its use in paint and gasoline and from ongoing historic mining and commercial operations (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2011). Lead’s properties serve to protect from oxidation or corrosion, making it a useful metal in a variety of products, such as: wires, cables, automobile batteries, construction and plumbing materials, paint, plastic, vinyl, glazes, water pipes, and food cans.

From a health perspective, lead is considered highly toxic, especially to young children.  The National Academy of Sciences indicated that lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood in infants, children, and pregnant women are harmful. Lead exposure is associated with impaired cognitive function, low IQ, learning disabilities, behavior difficulties, impaired hearing and reduced stature among many other health-related problems (National Academy of Sciences, 1993). Infants and young children are at greatest risk of ingesting or inhaling lead because they are drinking water from old lead pipes or faucets, crawling and/or touching contaminated surfaces and putting their hands, toys, and other items containing lead in their mouth. Lead can be found in drinking water, lead-based paints, household dust, soil, inexpensive, foreign-made plastic toys, old painted toys, candy wraps, and household items like pottery, furniture, mini-blinds, certain candies, make up, jewelry.

In response to the growing scientific research demonstrating that young children suffer devastating and permanent effects from lead exposure, governmental entities have been created by The U.S. Centers for Disease Control to provide scientific and technical advice related to the prevention of childhood lead poisoning.  As a result, lead exposure among young children has been dramatically reduced over the last two decades due to the phase-out of lead from gasoline, food and beverage cans, new house paint regulations, reductions of lead in industrial emissions, drinking water, consumer goods, hazardous waste sites, and other sources.  Children’s blood lead levels have declined over 80% since the mid-1970s. In 1978, there were about 14.8 million poisoned children in the United States. By the early 1990s, that number had declined to 890,000 children. The CDC warns, however, that there is a lot more monitoring and surveillance to be done (CDC, Eliminating Childhood Poisoning, 2000).

Great Kids, Inc. takes the safety of children and families’ well-being seriously; thus the Growing Great Kids Curriculum incorporates detailed information on lead poisoning and its impact on child development.  The following list shows the GGK resources and tools focused on this topic:

  •  GGK 4-6 Months: Basic CareLead Poisoning and Your Child’s Development.
  • GGK 25-30 Months: Basic Care – Beware of Lead Poisoning.
  • Body Builders Daily Do
  • Facts About Lead Poisoning Handout

The National Center for Environmental Health under The U.S Centers for Disease Control provides a list of actions that parents can take to make their homes more lead-safe including:

  • Talk to your local health department about testing paint and dust in your home for lead if you live in a home built before 1978
  • Learn about the Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule from the web page http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovation.htm
  • Wipe your feet on mats before entering the home, especially if you work in occupations where lead is used
  • Removed recalled toys and toy jewelry from children.  Stay up-to-date on current recalls by visiting the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Website: http://www.cpsc.gov (CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, 2016).

Recently the attention of local governments across the United States has been drawn to the evidence of dangerous levels of lead in some of their drinking water, particularly in older neighborhoods. Efforts to correct these problems could take decades. Given the devastating impact lead exposure has on a child’s development, GKI encourages home visitors to support program parents in having lead testing done on their children by their local health department or health care provider.  Parents will benefit from gaining a better understanding of the importance of protecting their children from lead exposure. Help them create awareness of the various things they can do to reduce risks and refer them to the local resources for additional assistance.  Remember…Lead Poisoning and its life-long, ravaging impacts are PREVENTABLE!!


Works Cited:

The US Centers for Disease Control (2016). National Surveillance Data Report 1997-2014. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/data/national.htm

National Academy of Sciences (1993).  Measuring Lead Exposure in Infants, Children, and Other Sensitive Populations.  Committee on Measuring Lead in Critical Populations, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, Commission on Life Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/read/2232/chapter/1

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2011). Toxic Substances Portal -Lead. Retrieved from http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=22

The US Centers for Disease Control (2000). Eliminating Childhood Lead Poisoning: A Federal Strategy Targeting Lead Paint Hazards. President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/about/fedstrategy2000.pdf

The US Centers for Disease Control (2016). National Center for Environmental Health: Blood Lead Levels in Children fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/lead_levels_in_children_fact_sheet.pdf


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