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Lead: What every parent should know about lead

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What is lead?

Lead is a metal with many uses, including some that go back for thousands of years. The toxic effects of lead have been known for almost as long. Lead was used in this country in some paints until 1978 and in gasoline until 1996. As lead paint gets old, it often creates dangerous dust and chips that pose a health risk. Lead is still found in many places, including some ceramic glazes, home remedies, water pipes, and toys and food cans made in other countries.

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning occurs when a person has too much lead in his body, usually from eating something with lead in it or breathing lead dust or fumes. Children with low levels of lead poisoning may not show any outward signs, but can have long-term problems with learning and behavior. Lead harms many different parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys and the blood. Severe lead poisoning can cause seizures, coma or death. Lead can remain stored in the bones of people who are poisoned as children and cause problems later.

Who can get lead poisoning?

Anyone exposed to lead can get lead poisoning, but children and pregnant women are at greatest risk. Small children often put their fingers and other things in their mouths, so they are more likely to eat paint chips or dust with lead in it. When women are pregnant, lead stored in their bones from past exposure can go into their blood and harm them and their babies. Almost one million children in this country between the ages of 1 and 5 have elevated blood lead levels.

How can you tell if someone has lead poisoning?

The best way to find out if someone has lead poisoning is to have a blood test. A blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or higher is considered to be elevated. A blood lead level of 70 micrograms per deciliter or higher is considered a medical emergency.

Who should be tested?

Parents of children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years should be screened (questioned) by their child's doctor at every routine health care visit to determine if their child is at risk for lead poisoning. This screening is a state requirement for entry into child care. Those children who are at risk should have a blood test done to determine their blood lead level. Blood lead tests are provided by the child's doctor.

Children in Health Choice (Medical Assistance or MCHP) and those living in certain areas are required by law to have blood lead tests done at ages 12 months and 24 months. In Anne Arundel County, these "at risk" areas include ZIP codes 20711, 20714, 20764, 20779, 21060, 21061, 21225, 21226 and 21402. The law also requires all children in Health Choice or in the "at risk" areas who are under the age of 6 to have a blood lead test if they have not already been tested.

When a child, who resides in an area designated as "at risk" for lead poisoning, enters a public pre-kindergarten program, kindergarten or first grade, the parent or legal guardian of the child will be required to provide evidence of the child's blood test for lead poisoning, administered in accordance with the guidelines of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What can I do to prevent lead poisoning?

  • If you live in a house that was built before 1978, there may be lead in the interior or exterior paint.
    • Make sure there are no areas of peeling or chipping paint. If you are renting, your landlord is responsible for keeping your home safe from lead exposure.
    • Clean floors, window sills and other surfaces regularly with a damp sponge or mop.
    • Wash children's hands often, especially before they eat or sleep.
    • Give your children meals low in fat and high in iron, calcium and vitamin C.
    • Before any remodeling or renovating, have the area tested for lead. If lead is found in the home, do not try to remove the lead paint yourself. Hire professional contractors trained and certified in lead paint removal.
  • The above suggestions also apply to children who spend time in other houses that were built before 1978, such as a relative's house or day care.
  • If someone in the house is exposed to lead at work, have them shower and change clothes before coming home.
  • If you are pregnant, eating a healthy diet with plenty of calcium can help protect you and your baby from lead. Staying active also helps, unless your doctor has asked you to rest.
  • Avoid using
    • old or imported glazed ceramic containers and dishes.
    • home remedies that contain lead such as greta and azarcon, and 
    • cheap toys imported from other countries (their paint may contain lead).
  • If you think your plumbing might have lead in it, use only cold water for drinking and cooking. Run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it.

For more information, call the:
Anne Arundel County Department of Health at 410-222-7003
or Maryland Department of the Environment at 410-537-3825 or 1-800-776-2706

Lead Poisoning Prevention - Home Safety