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Childhood Lead Poisoning

Environmental lead is a common toxic metal in our environment. People may be exposed to lead by breathing or swallowing lead or lead dust. Once it enters the body, lead can become a health hazard.

Lead exposure in children remains a major health concern. Approximately half a million US children aged 1-5 years have blood lead levels greater than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (mcg/dL), the CDC Blood Lead Reference Level based on the 97.5th percentile of blood lead level distribution in US children aged 1-5 years. In New Mexico, a child is considered to have an elevated blood lead level (EBLL) at a concentration of 5 mcg/dL or greater.
Environmental lead is a common toxic metal, present in all areas of the United States. Lead exposure and lead poisoning are preventable. Lead exposure can adversely affect nearly every organ and system in the body, including the nervous, blood, hormonal, kidney, and reproductive systems. Children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults. Children from all social and economic levels can be affected. The bodies of young children absorb lead more readily than adults. During the first three years of life, children's brains are growing the fastest, developing the critical connections in the nervous system that control thought, learning, hearing, movement, behavior, and emotions. The normal behaviors of children at this age, such as crawling, exploring, teething, and putting objects in their mouth, put them at an increased risk for lead exposure. Even blood lead levels lower than 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL) may be associated with negative outcomes for children, such as cognitive impairment and learning disabilities, delayed development, changes in behavior, kidney problems and anemia. There is no known safe level of exposure to lead. The state requires all children enrolled in Medicaid be tested for lead exposure at ages 12 months and 24 months.
All children under age six have high potential for exposure to lead and lead poisoning because they tend to put hands or other objects that may contain lead into their mouths. Children from all social and economic levels can be affected by lead poisoning, but children living at or below poverty level, who live in older housing built before 1978, are at greatest risk for lead poisoning.

Paint and Dust

The major source of lead exposure among children is lead-based paint and lead-containing dust found in older buildings. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. Houses and other buildings built before 1978, especially those built before 1950, may contain lead-based paint. If you live in or regularly visit homes built before 1978, you may be at risk for lead exposure and poisoning. This includes grandparents' or other family members' homes and in-home daycares.
Deteriorating paint (chipping, flaking, and peeling) and paint disturbed during home remodeling add to lead dust, contaminate soils around the home, and make paint chips and dust-containing lead accessible to children. Children can be exposed to lead by eating lead-based paint chips, chewing on objects painted with lead-based paint, sucking on jewelry that contains lead, or swallowing house dust or soil that contains lead.
Lead exposure may come from sources other than housing, such as:
  • Hobbies that include the use of lead (such as making stained glass windows, hunting, fishing, target shooting).
  • Work that includes the use of lead, such as recycling or making automotive batteries, painting, radiator repair.
  • "Take home" lead on clothes worn at work can transfer in the car and home.
  • Drinking water (lead pipes, solder, brass fixtures, and valves can all leach lead).
  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain (lead can leach in food from these sources).
  • Folk medicines and remedies (azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion; pay-loo-ah, which is used for rash or fever; kohl or alkohl, which is used as eye cosmetic, to treat skin infections, or as umbilical stump remedy).
  • Some jewelry and types of metal toy jewelry or older toys.
  • Plants and animals from areas where air, water, or soil are contaminated with lead (the amounts of lead may build up in plants and if animals eat contaminated plants or other animals some lead may retain in their bodies).
You can protect your family by understanding common ways a person can be exposed and minimizing those exposures. Then take other actions for protection, such as frequently cleaning, washing hands, good nutrition, and by removing common items in the home that may contain lead, such as home remedies, some jewelry, and certain toys. To protect yourself and your family, take simple steps to reduce your exposure to lead:
  • Clean and remove shoes before going inside your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil. Place shoe racks or trays near the doorway to help your family get into the habit of taking their shoes off when they come inside the house.
  • Shower and change clothes after finishing the task if you remodel buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies involve working with lead-based products
  • Wash your hands frequently and when you go into your home. Make sure children wash their hands often and also when they get home from school and come inside after playing outside.
  • Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and often wash a child's hands (especially before they eat and before nap time and bed time), pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals to reduce exposure to lead. Caution: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH PRODUCTS TOGETHER BECAUSE THEY CAN FORM A DANGEROUS GAS.
  • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making a baby formula. Hot water may contain a higher amount of lead, and most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the public water supply.
  • Avoid using home remedies and cosmetics, such as azarcon, greta, pay-loo-ah, kohl, alkohl, that contain lead.
  • Check your home for items that may potentially contain lead, such as jewelry, toys, and older painted furniture that may be chipping.
Protecting Children
  • Ask a doctor to test your child if you are concerned about a child being exposed to lead.
  • Both Federal and State Medicaid regulations require that all children enrolled in Medicaid be tested at 12 months and again at 24 months of age. Children between the ages of 36 months and 72 months of age must receive a screening blood lead test if they have not been previously screened for lead poisoning. No state is exempt from this requirement.
  • Talk to the New Mexico Department of Health (at the toll free phone number 1-888-878-8992 or DOH-EHEB@state.nm.us) about testing paint and dust from your home for lead if you live in a house or apartment built before 1978, especially if young children live with you or visit you.
  • Make sure children eat healthy and nutritious meals as recommended by the National Dietary Guidelines, because children with good diets absorb less lead. A diet high in vitamin C, iron, and calcium can help reduce lead absorption.
The NM EPHT Web site is supported by Cooperative Agreement Number 5 U38EH000949 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Sun, 23 April 2017 4:01:26 from New Mexico EPHT Tracking Public Web site: https://nmtracking.org/ ".

Content updated: Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:01:06 MST