Preventing and Treating Lead Poisoning in Children

What problems does lead cause?
High lead levels in the body can cause problems with the brain, kidneys, and bone marrow (soft tissue inside bones). Symptoms of high lead levels can include belly pain, headaches, vomiting, confusion, muscle weakness, seizures, hair loss or anemia (low red blood cell count).

Lower levels of lead in the body can still cause problems, like trouble paying attention, behavior problems, learning difficulties and a fall in the IQ of young children. (IQ stands for "intelligence quotient" and is one measure of how smart a person is.)

In what ways are children exposed to lead?
More than 4 percent of children in the United States have lead poisoning. Rates of lead poisoning are even higher in large cities and among people with low incomes.

The most common cause of lead poisoning today is old paint with lead in it. Lead has not been used in house paint since 1978. However, many older houses and apartment buildings (especially those built before 1960) have lead-based paint on their walls.

Toddlers explore their world by putting things in their mouths. Therefore, young children who live in older buildings are at especially high risk of getting lead poisoning. Children can get lead poisoning by chewing on pieces of peeling paint or by swallowing house dust or soil that contains tiny chips of the leaded paint from these buildings.

Lead can also be in air, water and food. Lead levels in the air have gone down greatly since lead was taken out of gasoline in the 1970s. Lead is still found in some old water pipes, although using lead solder to mend or put together water pipes is no longer allowed in the United States. Lead can also be found in food or juice stored in foreign-made cans or improperly fired ceramic containers.

How can I lower the risk that my child will get lead poisoning?
Here are some things you can do to lower your family's risk of lead poisoning:

  • If you live in a house or an apartment built before 1978, ask your doctor about blood lead testing for your child and keep your child away from peeling paint. The peeling paint needs to be removed from all surfaces up to 5 feet above the floor. It is also a good idea to repaint the rooms to seal in the lead paint.
  • If you're remodeling an old home, seal off the rooms that are being worked on. For example, put heavy sheets of plastic over doorways and windows of the work area.
  • If there's a problem with lead poisoning in the area where you live, or if a lot of older houses in your neighborhood are being remodeled, have your family wipe their feet and take their shoes off before they come into your home. This will lower the chance of tracking soil with lead in it into your home.
  • Wash your child's hands and face before meals.

To get more information about what you can do to lower your family's exposure to lead, talk to your doctor or call your local health department.

What will my doctor do if my child's blood has a high level of lead?
During well-child checkups for your baby, toddler, or preschooler, your doctor will ask you questions to see if there is a chance that your child might get lead poisoning. The doctor might test your child's blood for lead.

Keeping Children out of harms way during a remodel

Des Plaines, Ill., May 23, 2006 Summer break and peak remodeling season clash every year, bringing workers into homes filled with curious and energetic young ones. As the two seasons get into full-swing, there is growing excitement over fresh ideas and new experiences. Now is the time for homeowners with children to plan for necessary precautions that should be undertaken during a home remodel. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) offers the following tips to keep children out of harm's way during a remodel.

Communication is Key "Communicate with your remodeling contractor openly and let him or her know what to expect while working in your household," urged Everett Collier, CR, President of NARI, "inform them about your children, their ages, their behavior patterns and how mischief-prone they may be so the contractor's crew can be safety-aware at all times." He also recommends having a discussion about where tools and materials will be stored, who will be responsible for cleaning the area, and what sections of wall or floor can be covered at the end of the day. Ask to be notified on days when the remodeling crew will be carrying in large pieces of equipment or building materials and plan an activity for your children that day.

Communicate with your children as well, and be sure both they and you can anticipate the number of workers likely to be in the house at a given time, and the general work hours. Consider the proximity of the work area to your child's room or play area, and if necessary, designate a new, safe area for play and toy storage. It's also important to set safety rules that they will need to follow while the work crews are present.

If possible, designate an entrance for workers' use only, and advise your children never to use that entrance. This will help keep children out of the contractor's way, and vice versa.

Environmental Hazards Lead is always an important consideration while remodeling, but it is especially significant in its harmful effects on children. Lead-based paint from the demolition portion of a project can send paint dust airborne. Lead paint is often found in homes built before 1978 and can be especially detrimental to young children. Review the risks with your remodeling contractor or check with your local Environmental Protection Agency office for guidelines to follow. Be cognizant of when your remodeling contractor will be using hazardous chemicals and work with them to devise a proper ventilation plan. Planning a short get-away is sometimes advised after the use of strong chemical agents to allow the home to properly air out.

Windows and Ladders Another safety area to consider is an open window. Try to keep ladders and tempting easy-to-climb structures away from open windows. Remember that insect screens are meant for keeping out insects, and won't suffice in protecting your child from a fall.

Adding a Pool? The child with the pool is the most popular kid on the block, which makes you the most responsible parent. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 350 children under the age of 5 drown each year in residential pools, and thousands more are treated each year for near-drowning accidents. Preventative safety measures can be taken in the pool-building process. During the design process, consider the proximity of the pool to the house. If it is very close to a second-story deck, or even overhanging tree branches, children might be tempted to jump from the structure into the pool.

NARI members represent a select group from the approximately 800,000 companies and individuals in the U.S. identifying themselves as professional remodelers.

The remodeling market, a $275 billion industry in the U.S. in 2005, is expected to continue to experience significant growth. It is estimated that more than a million homes per year undergo major renovation or remodeling.

NARI is a professional association whose members voluntarily subscribe to a strict code of ethics. Consumers may wish to search www.RemodelToday.com to find a qualified professional who is a member of NARI. Consumers can also call the NARI National hotline at 800-611-NARI and request a free copy of NARI's brochure, "How to Select a Remodeling Professional," or visit www.RemodelToday.com and click on the homeowner's guide for more information.

About NARI: The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is the only trade association dedicated solely to the remodeling industry. With more than 7,000 member companies nationwide, the Association -- based in Des Plaines, Illinois -- is "The Voice of the Remodeling Industry."TM For membership information, or to locate a local NARI chapter or a remodeling professional, visit NARI's website at www.RemodelToday.com, or contact the national headquarters office at 800-611-NARI.