Kids and Lead


Despite mandatory testing, many of the most vulnerable children remain at risk, especially for lead poisoning.

Doctors say lead has a substantial detrimental effect on a child's intelligence-- all of the ingredients of intelligence, which are necessary for success in school and ultimately for productivity and success in the workplace.

Dr. John Rosen is a national expert on lead poisoning in kids. He says the tragedy is that it only takes an $8 blood test to detect unsafe lead levels in children, which can then be treated.

Rosen says according to statistics from New York City, only one out of four children ages one and two are being tested. He says the earlier it's diagnosed, that has potentially the effect of ensuring that child is going to succeed in school.

The main source of lead in children is lead-based paint, and the only way to tell is to test.

Even though it's been banned in the nation for 25 years, federal estimates say there are still 38 million homes in the U.S. with lead-based paint.

Rosen said the reason kids don't get tested is mostly lacking awareness among pediatricians. Public service campaigns from city and state health departments should help make sure more kids are tested. Extended Web Coverage

Getting the Lead Out

  • Lead was banned from house paint in 1978.

  • U.S. food canners quit using lead solder in 1991.

  • The 25-year phase-out of lead in gasoline reached its goal in 1995.

Lead Absorption

  • Adults absorb about 11 percent of lead reaching the digestive tract

  • Children may absorb 30 to 75 percent of lead reaching the digestive tract.

  • When lead is inhaled, up to 50 percent is absorbed, but less than one percent of lead is absorbed when it comes in contact with the skin.

  • The body stores lead mainly in bone, where it can accumulate for decades.

  • Calcium deficiency especially increases lead absorption, as does iron deficiency, which can also increase lead damage to blood cells.

  • A high-fat diet increases lead absorption, and so does an empty stomach.

Risks of Lead

  • Lead disrupts the functioning of almost every brain neurotransmitter.

  • While a child's chronic exposure to relatively low lead levels may result in learning or behavioral problems.

  • Higher levels of exposure in children can be associated with anemia and changes in kidney function, as well as significant changes in the nervous system that may include seizures, coma and death.

  • In adults, lead poisoning can contribute to high blood pressure and damage to the reproductive organs.

  • Severe lead poisoning in adults can cause subtle loss of recently acquired skills, listlessness, bizarre behavior, incoordination, vomiting, altered consciousness, seizures, coma and death

  • By the time symptoms appear, damage is often already irreversible.

Top Contaminators

  • Lead Paint:
    • America's No. 1 source of lead exposure in children is deteriorating lead paint in older housing.
    • Because young children frequently put their thumbs and fingers and objects they handle in their mouths, they are easily poisoned from chronic ingestion of lead paint chips and house dust or soil that may have lead particles in it.

  • Workplace Hazards:
    • Occupations that may expose workers to lead include painting, smelters, firearms instruction, automotive repair, brass or copper foundries, and bridge, tunnel and elevated highway construction.
    • Besides their own exposures, workers may bring lead dust home on clothes, hands or hair, exposing children in the household.

  • Drinking Water:
    • The main culprits of water contamination are corroded lead plumbing, lead solder on copper plumbing, and brass faucets.
    • Lead is highest in water left in pipes for a long time--for example, when the faucet isn't used overnight.

  • Ceramics:
    • Some ceramicware has lead in the glaze and may introduce small amounts of lead in the diet, which the body can tolerate, the major problem with ceramicware is the rare poorly made piece with very high levels of lead.
    • Antique ceramicware may leach high levels of lead. Consumers can use a lead test kit from a hardware store on such pieces and on other hand-painted ceramicware they may already own.

    Source: (U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web Site)