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Lead poisoning from eating lead-based paint chips resulted in a government ban on lead-based paint in 1978. Homes built after 1980 are required by law to use lead-free paint. So the problem should be over. Not true. While the signs of lead poisoning have long been recognized, recent research has shown that even small traces of lead in a child's blood stream may cause subtle developmental delays, behavioral problems and even brain damage. Lead is now dubbed "the silent hazard."
This toxic material enters the bloodstream, and the body, mistaking it for calcium, welcomes it into vital cells (such as those in bone marrow, kidneys, and the brain) where it interferes with the enzymes necessary for these organs to function normally. A child with lead poisoning shows these features:
Children do not get lead poisoning from chewing on pencils. Pencil paint is non-leaded, and the "lead" is harmless graphite. The lead that poisons children comes from old paint, gasoline emissions, contaminated soil, contaminated water, and lead pottery.
Look for the following high-risk sources of lead in your child's environment, and follow our suggestions to reduce the risk. Also note that children with nutritional deficiencies of iron, calcium, and zinc are more susceptible to lead poisoning; another example of how good nutrition is preventive medicine.
If your tap water is high in lead, in addition to replacing the plumbing (if that is a possibility) use cold water for bathing (hot water removes more of the lead from the pipes), use bottled water for drinking and cooking, and obtain a water filter that is proven to remove lead.
Water drawn from the tap first thing in the morning has the greatest lead concentration. This is important to know since many parents prepare a daily supply of formula in the morning. If your pipes are suspicious or your water has been proven to contain lead, run the cold water for at least two minutes to flush out the pipe before using the tap water to prepare formula.
If your child has any of the above exposure risks, mention them to your doctor, who may order a lead blood test. In high-risk areas children should be routinely tested at twelve and twenty-four months. Because of the recent findings that low levels of lead can cause subtle developmental delays, the blood level at which a child may be at risk for damage has been lowered, from twenty-five micrograms per deciliter to ten micrograms.
Treatment of lead poisoning (injecting medicines into the child's bloodstream to remove the lead) is expensive, painful, and cannot remove all of the lead. Some effects are irreversible. Prevention is the answer. Though environmentalists give much attention to preserving the wildlife in our forests, perhaps the most endangered species is the children in our cities.