Lead poisoning is the No. 1 preventable environmental health threat to children in the United States. Colorado’s history of mining, lead smelting and refining activities, as well as recreational opportunities, contribute to high lead exposure. But the primary source of lead exposure, especially for young children, is in the home.
Lead is a highly toxic metal that can affect anyone. Children exposed to lead are at the highest risk for detrimental health effects because of their hand-to-mouth activity and their developing brain and nervous system.
Lead poisoning can be very hard to detect; often signs and symptoms don’t appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated. Lead exposure can cause developmental delays, learning disabilities, irritability, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting and hearing loss. At extremely high levels, lead poisoning can cause severe brain damage and death.
In Colorado, common sources of lead include lead-based paint in houses built before 1978, imported spices, imported glazed pottery commonly used to cook beans or hot chocolate, home remedies such as greta or azacron, soil or dust contaminated with lead, hobbies such as hunting and fishing, lead related industries or water from old pipes.
There are many things you can do to reduce your child’s potential exposure to lead at home.
Keep your home clean and dust free, especially floors, windowsills and other surfaces. Lead in dust is the most common way people are exposed to lead. Lead dust comes from deteriorating lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil that gets tracked into your home by people and pets.
Wipe up paint chips or visible dust with a wet sponge or rag and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Dry dusting or vacuuming without a HEPA filter will release dust back into the air. Wash children’s hands, bottles and toys often. Always remove your shoes at the door. Make sure children eat a healthy diet, especially rich in iron (lean meats, dried fruits, iron fortified cereals), calcium (milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables) and vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, green peppers). Make sure children are eating regularly throughout the day: 4-6 small meals. Children with empty stomachs absorb more lead.
When doing home renovations, make sure to hire contractors that are trained in lead-safe work practices.
The only way to know if your child has been exposed to lead is to get their blood tested. Colorado guidelines recommend that children on Medicaid or CHP+ get tested at 12 and 24 months. Other high risk children include those who:
• Live in or regularly visit a house built before 1950.
• Live in or regularly visit a house built before 1978 that is under remodel or in poor condition.
• Have a sibling or playmate with elevated blood lead.
• Live with an adult whose job or hobby involves lead (mining, smelting, automobile repair, construction, plumbing, hunting with lead bullets or fishing).
• Live near a smelter, battery recycling plan or other lead-releasing industry.
• Have been to Mexico, Central America or South America in the last year.
• Have been given home remedies such as Azarcon, Alacron, Greta, Rueda or Pay-loo-Ah.
• Eat or drink from imported pottery or ceramic cookware.
• Eat foods containing spices imported from other countries, or imported candies.
• Has Pica or a habit of eating dirt or non-food items.
If you are concerned that your child has been exposed to lead, talk to your physician about having their blood lead levels tested. Blood lead testing involves either a finger prick or a venous blood draw. Though the tests are not enjoyable for children, the risk of not getting tested is much worse.
For a list of Colorado lead mitigation and abatement services, a free lead paint test kit (while supplies last) or to speak with a nurse about this topic, please contact Public Health at 539-4510.
Emily Anderson, RN, is the Chaffee County Public Health nurse.