Last updated: March 7, 2018
What Every Parent Should Know About Lead
What is lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring 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 is still found in many places, including some homes built before 1978, ceramic glazes, home remedies, water pipes, metal toys, keys, and food cans and spices from other countries. Lead was used in some paints until 1978 and in gasoline until 1996. As lead paint ages, it can chip or crumble into dust. The paint chips and dust are dangerous and can pose a serious health risk.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs when there is too much lead in a person’s body. This is usually caused by 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 can harm 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 foreign objects 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.
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, which can be ordered by a physician. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Maryland Department of Health have issued guidance lowering the previous “level of concern” of 10 micrograms/deciliter to a new “reference level” of 5 micrograms/deciliter. This is based in part on newer data showing clinical and long-term health concerns for levels below 10 micrograms/deciliter. At the same time, the primary sources of lead exposure, such as older homes, have expanded to include toys with lead paint, food and spices from other countries, cosmetics, home remedies, lead in pipes, and exposures when traveling outside of the United States.
Who should be tested?
Effective March 28, 2016, all children in Maryland born on or after January 1, 2015 must be tested for lead exposure at their 12 and 24 month health care visits.
Children born before January 1, 2015 are managed according to the previous Targeting Plan, which defines testing at 12 and 24 months of age for all children entering child care, all children with Medical Assistance, and all children in Anne Arundel County living in “at risk” areas designated by ZIP codes 20711, 20714, 20764, 20779, 21060, 21061, 21225, 21226 and 21402.
In addition, all children entering a public pre-kindergarten program, kindergarten or first grade are required to have a Maryland Department of Health Blood Lead Testing Certificate completed.
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.
- 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.
- Wash children’s hands often, especially before they eat or sleep.
- Feed your children foods that are low in fat and high in iron, calcium and vitamin C.
- If someone in the house is exposed to lead while outside of the house, have that person shower and change clothes before entering the home.
- If you are pregnant, then 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, pewter, or crystal for cooking or eating;
- home remedies that contain lead, such as greta and azarcon, and cosmetics, such as surma or kohl; or
- 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:
Anne Arundel County Department of Health Childhood Lead Program: 410-222-7003
Maryland Department of the Environment: 410-537-4199