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Mitzi Parker: Protect children from lead poisoning

Lead in toys has received much attention in the past few years; however, it is not the most common way children can be exposed to lead. Lead in paint remains the most prevalent cause of lead poisoning. Houses and apartments built before 1978, may have been painted with lead-based paint.
Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in U.S. children. Lead-based paint was banned for use in housing in 1978. All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. As the paint chips and peels it becomes a health hazard for the people living in and around that structure.
Children are the most likely victims of lead poisoning. This is because of their behaviors. They are more likely to put things in their mouths, like toys, fingers and other objects that may be contaminated with lead dust. Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. Children under the age of 6 should have their blood level tested to find out if they have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Ask your pediatrician to request a lead screening as part of a routine blood test.
Here are some action steps you can take to reduce the chances that your children will be exposed to lead.
• Keep them away from chipping or peeling paint, and “chewable” surfaces. (This is in pre-1978 houses, apartments and child care facilities.)
• Wash (with soap and water) children’s hands and toys frequently.
• Regularly clean floors and window sills with a damp cloth or mop. Household dust can be a major source of lead dust.
• Test your home’s drinking water for lead. Sumter County Extension office offers water testing through the UGA Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories.
• Add a doormat by all exterior doors and remove shoes and leave them at the door. This will reduce tracking in lead contaminated dust.
Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable. Take the time today to investigate your children’s environment for possible sources of lead exposure.

Mitzi Parker is Sumter County Extension agent/Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at 924-4476.