What is childhood lead poisoning?
Lead is a metal that can harm children when it gets into their bodies. Lead can affect a young child’s growth, behavior, ability to learn and can also cause anemia, kidney damage, and hearing loss. There are many sources of lead. Lead can be found in dust, air, water, soil, and in some products around our homes.
Children under six years old are more likely to get lead poisoning than any other age group. Most often, children get lead poisoning from breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors, windowsills, hands, and toys. Lead can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.
Although lead poisoning is preventable, lead continues to be a major cause of poisoning among children. Thousands of children are still at risk even in our Central New Hampshire community.
When are children tested for lead and what do your child’s lead test results mean?
In NH, children are tested for lead at age 1, and again at age 2. It’s critical for parents to test their children for lead at the appropriate ages.
During a lead test, a small amount of blood is taken from a finger prick or vein and tested for lead. Blood can be drawn at a doctor’s office, hospital, clinic or lab. Children with lead test results greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter may require additional follow-up actions to address possible sources of lead exposures. To learn about lead testing, call your child’s primary care provider.
Steps parents and caregivers can take to prevent children from lead poisoning:
- Keep children away from peeling paint and broken plaster.
- Wash their hands after play, before meals, and before bed to rinse off any lead dust or dirt.
- Wash your child’s toys often, especially teething toys.
- Use cold water – not hot – for infant formula or cooking. Let the cold water tap run for at least a minute before using it to flush lead picked up from pipes. Learn more about lead in drinking water.
- Store food from open cans in glass or plastic containers.
- Use lead-free dishes. Some dishes may have lead in their glazes. Don’t use chipped or cracked dishes to store or serve food.
- Don’t bring lead home with you from work. People who work in construction, plumbing, painting, auto repair, and certain other jobs can be exposed to lead.
- Wash work clothes separately.
- Keep children away from remodeling and renovation sites. Old paint can have lead in it. Learn how to be safe during DIY renovations.
- Avoid having children play in soil especially around the foundations of older buildings and near roadways.
- When windows are open in warm weather, wash the sills and window wells any time you see dust, but at least once a month.
- Call your local health department for information about professionals who handle lead-based paint problems.
Feed your family foods that get ahead of lead.
Foods high in iron, calcium, and Vitamin C can help prevent lead poisoning:
- Iron – protects from the harmful effects of lead
- Calcium – makes it hard for lead to enter the body
- Vitamin C – helps the body absorb iron and calcium better
Learn about specific foods and tips.
What do health care providers do to manage and prevent lead poisoning?
New Hampshire State Public Health Law and Regulations require health care providers to:
- Obtain a blood lead test for all children at age 1 and again at age 2;
- All health insurance companies are now mandated to cover the cost of the blood lead level testing;
- If a child has an elevated lead level, the health care provider must make certain the child has appropriate follow-up testing and medical management. Providers must also provide guidance on lead poisoning prevention and risk reduction.
- A parent/guardian can refuse BLL testing for their child, but providers need to inform the parent/guardian of the recommendation, the risks of not having a child’s BLL tested, and then properly document the refusal in the patient’s medical record
What is Central NH doing to combat childhood lead poisoning?
Great progress has been made, but lead is still a threat to many children. The Central NH Public Health Advisory council received an 18-month grant through the Healthy Homes Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and Department of Health and Human Services in 2019. These funds were utilized to perform prevention-related activities throughout the region, including educating key stakeholders about the dangers of lead poisoning and distributing lead kits to local families with young children. These lead testing kits allowed families with young children to test surfaces in their home for lead and assess potential risk. They also reminded families to ensure their children are being tested, and provided education on where lead poisoning can happen, and most importantly, how to prevent it.