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Lead exposure in children, why it matters

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Did you know you and your loved ones could routinely be exposed to lead? If you have children 6 years old or younger, even low levels of lead exposure may cause harm. It is important for parents to be knowledgeable of common products that contain lead to minimize exposure to children. Once negative effects of lead exposure occur in children, they cannot be corrected.

Lead is a common metal found in many household goods, such as automobile batteries, ammunition, imported canned foods, toys (foreign made), eye liner, lipstick, pottery, ceramics, fine china and crystal. It is also found in the air, water and soil.

Those who work in battery and bullet productions, home renovations, auto repair shops and firing ranges are at a higher risk of lead exposure. Consequently, lead can be brought home on the clothes of those employees who work in some of these high-risk areas.

Lead has no useful purpose within the human body, but can cause toxicity that affects every organ system. Lead may enter the body when inhaled, swallowed or absorbed by the skin in small amounts. Within our bodies, lead is absorbed into the bones, blood and tissues. While stored internally, lead is a continual source in the human body.

Children under the age of six are the most vulnerable population to lead poisoning. There is no blood level of lead considered to be safe in children; however, experts use the reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify enough lead exposure to cause concern.

Low exposure levels of lead in children have been shown to affect both mental and physical development. Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead exposure in children. Adults may experience dizziness, fatigue, impaired concentration, diminished cognitive performance, reaction time, visual/motor performance and weakness.

The overarching goal is to prevent lead exposure to children. There are several ways parents can reduce the likelihood of a child’s exposure to lead.

The most important is to stop children from coming into contact with lead-based materials. Eliminating exposures in a child’s environment is key. Here are some tips:

-Determine the construction year of your home or dwellings where your child spends a large amount of time (daycare, grandparents’ house etc.). Housing built before 1978 used lead-based paint until the United States banned it. Contact your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.

-Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.

-Keep your home free from dust. Regularly wash children’s hands and toys as these can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil; both are known lead sources.

-Frequently wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components. Household dust is a major source of lead.

-If you are occupationally exposed to lead (hobbies or job), make sure to change into clean clothing and shoes before getting into your car and going home. Place dirty clothes and shoes in a plastic bag. Additionally, wash hands and face with soap and warm water before leaving work; if possible, shower at work.

-Take off exposed clothing and footwear before entering your home; then immediately wash clothing separately from other clothes, especially any children clothes.

-Avoid eating or drinking at the firing range prior to washing hands, and make sure everyone washes their hands before eating in general.

-Avoid purchasing painted toys and canned goods from foreign countries.

-Screen yourself and children for blood lead levels, as recommended by your provider and/or pediatrician.

These are just some actions you can take to help prevent your child and yourself from lead exposure. Further information can be found by using the links below:

If you have additional questions or concerns, contact the Public Health office at 575-784-4926.