Today it may seem like lead poisoning is a thing of the past, but the mineral lead is still around today and causing serious health problems.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs when there is a buildup of lead within the body. According to the EPA, there is no safe blood lead level.
Children under the age of 6 are most susceptible to the effects of lead. Lead poisoning in children can cause developmental delays, behavior problems and learning disabilities. Symptoms can mirror other common behavior patterns for young children, meaning the effects of lead are likely to go unnoticed. For this reason, regular testing and screening is crucial to identifying if your child has been exposed to lead.
Preventing lead poisoning
To help better protect children under the age of 6 who are most at risk for severe outcomes, Missouri launched updated screening protocols for pediatricians in August 2023. These updated guidelines outline new schedules for lead testing and screening in children. Simply put, all children under 3 should receive an annual lead test and children under 6 should be screened for their risk through a lead risk screening questionnaire. If you have children in these age ranges, you can talk to your pediatrician about how you can work this into your child’s next well visit.
Potential Exposure Sources
There are many ways you can encounter lead — some of which may not be obvious. Paint from older homes, old water pipes, playing with keys and many other factors can contribute to exposure. Lead can enter someone’s body by inhaling or swallowing lead dust or consuming paint chips or soil that contains lead. These pathways are more common for younger children, who frequently put their hands or other objects into their mouths without washing their hands regularly.
You can protect your children and yourself better by being aware of where high-risk exposures could happen.
Lead Based Paints
While the government banned the use of lead-based paints in homes, children’s toys and household furniture in 1978, there are still situations that may put you at risk for lead exposure. At this time, 65% of homes in Missouri were built before 1978 — meaning over half of the homes in Missouri are at risk of being a source for lead exposure.
If your home was built before 1978, you should take these preventative steps:
- Have your paint tested.
- Have your water tested. Lead can be found in faucets, fixtures and pipes, which can then contaminate your water. They are more likely to be found in older cities and homes built before 1986, per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- If you are remodeling a home built before 1978, pregnant women and children should not be in the home during that time.
Missouri’s soil lead levels are incredibly high because of historic mining. In fact, Missouri is the #1 lead producing state in the United States. To avoid soil exposure, you can:
- Prevent children from playing in bare soil.
- Use sandboxes and cover soil with grass seed, mulch or wood chips, if possible.
Other possible sources
Additionally, you can bring lead into your home on work clothes or shoes, through your hair or pet dander or by receiving packages from other countries. Not every country regulates lead like the United States. According to the EPA, more than half of the countries in the world still manufacture and sell paint with lead, including items like toys, jewelry, food, makeup and more.
To avoid bringing lead into your home, you can take these precautions:
- Wash your child’s hands and toys regularly.
- Regularly wet-mop floors and wet wipe the windows to lower the exposure to dust.
- Follow safety recommendations if you are exposed to lead in your occupation.
With updated testing and screening protocols, we are taking the right steps forward to decrease the risk of lead poisoning in our community. Prevention efforts — including testing, hand washing and becoming aware of where and when lead exposures may happen — can help us all live happier, healthier lives.