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BLOG: Lead poisoning is still a risk to your child. Here's how to reduce it.

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Little boy lining up painted toy cars on a brown couch.
Did you know that children between the ages of 9 months old and 6 years old are at a higher risk of lead poisoning than any other age group? Ashley Washington, a biological scientist with the health department in Palm Beach County, answers your questions to help you understand, and reduce, the risk.   

What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a toxic element that was commonly used in paints, water pipes and other materials until studies showed its harmful effects. Lead poisoning now has its biggest impact on families living in older houses or houses in low-income communities. Children under the age of 6 are at a higher risk because they are the most likely to put objects in their mouths. There is no way to tell immediately if your child has been exposed to lead. 

How do children get lead into their bodies?

The most likely source of lead exposure is your home. If you live in a house built before 1978, the odds increase by about 24% that lead-based paint is present. The risk increases to 69% if your home was built between the years of 1940 to 1959. Homes that contain lead-based paint can create dust and chippings that your child can inhale or ingest. 

Other ways that children can be exposed to lead:

• Objects imported from outside the United States that contain high lead levels including furniture, vinyl mini-blinds, jewelry and pottery.
• Coming into contact with adults who have lead dust on their clothes from work in manufacturing, construction or machinist jobs.
• Certain toys made of plastic or metal that when they are left out for prolonged periods of time in the heat or sunlight give off lead dust.

How could lead poisoning affect my child?

Elevated levels of lead can lead to visible symptoms like abdominal pain, headache, fatigue, fever, general loss of appetite, and overall changes in mood. More significant long-term health effects include developmental delays, behavioral problems, neurological deficits and speech and language delays. Lead toxicity can take months to build up in the body all while going unnoticed.

How can I protect my child from lead poisoning?

As a parent, you can take some basic precautions:

• Ask your landlord if there is any lead-based paint in your home. Lead poisoning can happen from children eating chips of peeling paint.
• Regularly clean your floors, high-touched surface areas and your child’s toys.
• Monitor small children to prevent them from putting household items in their mouths.
• Ensure your child has a diet high in iron, calcium and Vitamin C.

How can I find out if my child has lead poisoning? 

If you have any suspicions, contact your child’s doctor or call your local health department. In Palm Beach County, you can call 561-837-5900.
Ashley Washington is a biological scientist with the Florida Department of Health - Palm Beach County.

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