Parents of young children: Beware the dangers of lead

Lead poisoning is a major environmental threat for children, and it is especially dangerous for young children, where it can cause problems with a child’s growth, behavior, and ability to learn. Lead can also harm babies before they are born.

A child can get lead poisoning by swallowing or breathing in lead or lead dust. Only a small amount of lead is needed to harm a young, growing child. Young children spend a lot of time on the floor, and they put hands, toys, and other things in their mouth, putting them at greater risk.

With nice weather approaching, Montgomery County Public Health recommends the following tips to help protect small children from lead in their environment:

∫ Any home built before 1978 could contain lead paint.

∫ Lead paint is still present in millions of homes, sometimes under layers of newer paint. If the paint is in good shape, the lead paint is usually not a problem. Deteriorating lead-based paint (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, damaged, or damp) is a hazard and needs immediate attention. It may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as: windows and window sills; doors and door frames; stairs, railings, banisters, and porches.

∫ Keep all painted surfaces in good condition. Keep babies and children away from any peeling, chipped paint. If you rent a home built before 1978, ask your landlord to repair any peeling paint.

∫ Lead in soil can be ingested as a result of hand-to-mouth activity that is common for young children. To reduce exposure to lead, after playing or working outdoors, children and adults should leave their shoes at the door or use door mats, and wash their hands. To keep children from playing in soil, have children play on grassy areas.

∫ Wash your children’s hands, face, toys, bottles, and pacifiers often.

∫ Safe cleaning practices are key. Clean floors, window sills and other woodwork using a wet method that includes a heavy-duty household cleaner. Sponges and rags used for cleaning should not be used for any other purpose.

∫ Window wells: Clean out window wells from any dust or debris before placing a fan or air conditioner in the window.

∫ Pregnant women and children should stay away from home repairs.

∫ Feed your children foods that are low in fat, have calcium, iron, and vitamin C. If your child breathes in or swallows lead, these foods will help lower the amount of lead that stays in your child’s blood.

Most children with lead poisoning do not look or feel sick. The only way to know if a child has lead poisoning is to get a blood test.

For more information, contact your health care provider or Montgomery County Public Health at (518) 853-3531, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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By Patricia Older

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