With the dead of winter settling in and families spending more and more time indoors, it’s a good time to think about the risks of lead exposure inside our homes.
Though the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead as an ingredient in paint in 1978, it still can be found lurking in our environment — perhaps scarier, our kids’ environment.
The majority of lead exposure comes from inside our homes from things like dust, dishware, toys, water that is passed through lead pipes and, of course, chipping paint.
“The older the house, especially those built before 1978, the higher the risk for lead exposure,” said Dr. Joel Davidson, a pediatrician at Locust Pediatric Care Group and leader of the LEAD (Lead Exposure And Detoxification) Clinic at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Even lead paint that’s been painted over several times can chip and kids can ingest it. Though most exposures in the home are created from dust.”
Layers of paint can wear away when surfaces rub together, such as the opening and closing of doors. The friction can create lead dust clouds that kids breathe in or that settle onto their toys where it can be ingested.
Major renovations done on older homes or refinishing furniture with lead-based paint also can release lead dust into the air.
Unfortunately, no amount of lead exposure is considered safe for children, and the damaging effects of lead are critical and life altering.
Studies have shown for children younger than 6, lead exposure can be dangerous to their rapidly developing brains. It can lead to behavioral problems, developmental delays, difficulty with executive function such as decision making, and learning issues. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates 1 in 5 cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are attributed to lead exposure.
“Even small levels can cause effects,” said Dr. Davidson. “Unfortunately, many kids exposed have no symptoms until school-age and that’s why we have to screen for lead exposure. Symptoms normally don’t appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated in the blood.”
Lead testing is mandated for all Medicaid patients at ages 12 and 24 months. For other Ohio children under the age of 6, the Ohio Department of Health developed these screening questions.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions regarding your children, testing blood for lead is required.
- Does the child live in or regularly visit a property built before 1978 that has peeling/chipping paint or recent/ongoing renovation (includes child care centers, preschools, homes of baby sitters or relatives)?
- Does the child live in a high-risk ZIP code?
- Does the child live in or regularly visit a home built before 1950?
- Does the child have a sibling or playmate who has or had lead poisoning?
- Does the child frequently come in contact with an adult who has a hobby or job with lead exposure (construction, welding, pottery, painting, casting ammunition)?
- Did the child’s mother have known lead exposure during her pregnancy?
- Is the child or mother an immigrant or refugee?
- Does the child live near an active or former lead smelter, battery recycling plant or other industry known to release lead?
If you suspect your child has been exposed, contact your pediatrician for a blood screening.
Through Akron Children’s MyChart, families can receive the test results as soon as they become available. If you have further questions, you can message your doctor securely right in MyChart.
“Unfortunately, once a child is exposed, the effects are irreversible,” said Dr. Davidson. “That’s why it’s so important to prevent exposure in the first place. If you have peeling paint or lead pipes in the home, these things need to be addressed right away before a child has an opportunity to be exposed.”