By Dawn Giovanetto
When you think about hazards to children in your home, you may think of steep stairs or open outlets. Not many people consider the danger that may lurk in your walls, windows, and porches. Lead is a common household toxin that can affect health and behavioral problems in children. Luckily, there are things you can do to keep your home lead safe.
Lead was a common additive in paint used in many homes up until 1978, when the harmful health effects caused the government to ban it from use. As these older homes age, so does the paint. Lead paint that is in good condition and covered, usually underneath layers of newer paint, does not pose a great threat. But when lead paint that is not covered breaks down, it poses a significant health hazard to young children and pregnant women. Harmful effects of lead paint are most common in children and can last a lifetime. Lead poisoning in children can show up as behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth and lower IQ, kidney issues, seizures, or even death.
Lead paint that is hazardous can take on a variety of appearances. It could look cracked, like alligator skin. It could peel and flake, and it could be dropping obvious amounts of dust. Children are at risk if they eat a lead paint chip or lead dust that has peeled off and fallen to the floor from doors or windowsills. Children crawling around on the floor, touching or picking up the lead dust on their fingers or toys, and then sticking their fingers or toys in their mouths are at risk of lead poisoning.
Although lead paint is the most common form of lead exposure, it is not the only one. Lead can still be found in older pottery glazes, and some old kitchen equipment. Currently, some imported spices and home remedies from other countries are found to be contaminated with lead. Some hobbies and industries use lead in firearms and soldering. Hobbyists and workers such as mechanics, construction workers, battery manufacturers, and users at firing ranges may bring home lead dust, unknowingly putting family members at risk. If you have a job or hobby with a risk of lead contamination, change clothing before entering the house and never wear your work shoes inside.
In the home, you can take additional steps to keep your child safe from lead paint by thorough housekeeping. Make sure any area with cracking, peeling, or flaking paint is wiped with a wet cloth, or wet Swiffer, every day. Keep windows that have deteriorating paint closed and wipe down the sills with a wet cloth daily. If there is deteriorating paint on the porch, take your shoes off before entering the house and wet Swiffer the porch daily.
Proper nutrition for your child can also help keep children safe. In the body, keeping lead from being absorbed is important. Lead competes with iron and calcium, so by feeding your child a diet high in calcium and iron, the lead is more likely to be excreted before it can be absorbed.
There is no safe amount of lead in the body which is why young children usually have regular screenings for lead poisoning at their childhood exams. Illinois uses a reference value of 5.0 microgram/deciliter of lead, so if your child has a blood lead level of 5.0 or greater, a lead risk assessor will work with you to identify and mitigate lead hazards in your home.
Keep your children protected from lead hazards. If your child has not been checked for lead poisoning or you see signs of lead-based paint in your home, check with your pediatrician or call your local health department for screening information. Be lead safe.
Dawn Giovanetto is an Environmental Health Sanitarian with the Lead Safe Program at Peoria City/County Health Department. For more information on being lead safe, visit www.pcchd.org.