Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

My grandson was born in New York City 6 months before the Coronavirus pandemic frightened his parents away. They have been living with us off and on ever since while they decide where to relocate. Because I am a pediatrician and founded the Utah Lead Coalition, if they had stayed in New York the Coronavirus was not my only worry. I knew that New York with all its old housing still had a problem with children getting lead poisoning. I knew my grandson would be crawling around in their 1920s apartment, putting everything in his mouth, and that likely there was old lead-based paint present. They also had water pipes and faucets that may have contained lead. This week when my daughter-in-law and I took Miles in for his one-year check-up in Bountiful, I was relieved that the pediatrician routinely tested all one and two year olds for lead exposure with a simple finger stick blood test. She did this because Utah children, although not required to be tested unless on Medicaid insurance, like New York children are at risk for lead poisoning. Fortunately, his lead level was undetectable and there was one less thing to worry about.

There is no safe amount of lead in a child’s body, so the key is to prevent exposure. October 25-31 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention week, an effort by the CDC, HUD, and the EPA to bring awareness to the still present danger of lead poisoning. Here are some important facts: Lead is a toxic element, especially in young children. When absorbed into the body, it can result in damage to the brain and nervous system, learning and behavior problems, slow growth and development, and hearing and speech problems. Lead can be found inside and outside the home. The most common source of exposure is from lead-based paint, which was used in many homes built before 1978. Learn more here.

Children can be exposed by swallowing or breathing in lead dust created by old paint that has cracked and chipped, eating paint chips, or chewing on surfaces coated with lead-based paint, such as windowsills. There are simple steps that can be taken to protect family members from lead-based paint hazards in the home, such as regularly cleaning the home, washing children’s hands and toys often, and removing or wiping shoes before entering the home. If you live in a house built before 1978, a certified inspector or risk assessor can be hired to check your home for lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards. Click here to see if you qualify for a free home inspection and removal of lead via the Lead Safe Housing Program.

Lead can also be found in drinking water. The most common sources of lead in drinking water are old pipes, faucets, and fixtures. Other examples of possible sources of lead include some metal toys or toys painted with lead-based paint, furniture painted with lead-based paint, some metal-containing jewelry, some imported items (i.e., health remedies, foods and candies, cosmetics, powders or make-up used in religious ceremonies), and lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.

Our state has increased efforts over the last several years to get pediatric health care providers to routinely test for lead exposure. In 2015 less than 1% of young children were tested and reported in our state and although this number has increased substantially, it is still under 10%. What we are finding is that around 2% of Utah preschool age children have an elevated lead level. This number is frightening and shows that our state’s children are indeed at risk. Parents need to receive routine questionnaires about lead exposure and children should have routine testing. Particularly at risk are refugee children, children living in poverty, and children whose parents’ jobs may expose them to lead that they bring home on their clothing, skin, or hair. We all have enough to worry about right now, so please make sure your child’s future is not endangered by making sure your child’s health care provider tests for lead. Learn more here.

Claudia Fruin, MD, FAAP 
Chair & Founder of the Utah Lead Coalition