Asking the Right Questions to Prevent Lead Poisoning in Children

Recently, I took my youngest to the pediatrician for her yearly physical. I was very happy to be able to answer “no” to all the screening questions regarding possible exposures to lead. Why is lead a problem?

Well, even if your child does not show symptoms of lead poisoning, exposure to lead can definitely have long-term adverse effects on your child’s health. That’s why asking the right questions is important in lead poisoning prevention.

For example, I’m lucky to have a pediatrician that regularly asks parents to fill a questionnaire to identify possible exposures to lead. But, how many families are unaware of the risks of lead exposures? How many doctors have not received the proper environmental health training to look for warning signs among their young patients? Furthermore, the problems can be compounded if there are language barriers between these patients and their physicians.

On that note, several months ago, I asked one of my nieces who is in medical school about her studies. I was interested in what she was learning about environmental health issues such as asthma, lead poisoning, mercury, and others. Bottom line, it seems that our young med students just don’t receive enough training in environmental health. So, if that’s the case with doctors, what are we to expect from the general public that might be unaware of the link between our health and the environment?

As we’re celebrating National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, let’s increase awareness of the potential lead poisoning. While most of the focus is related to reducing the risk of lead based paints found in homes build before 1978, our children may also have some non-traditional routes of exposure due to their behavior or for cultural reasons which might put them at a greater risk. Have you resorted to folk remedies such as greta, azarcón, ghasard, bali goli, to treat ailments stomach ailments or colic? Has your child eaten candy or foods canned outside the United States? Do you cook foods in imported or glazed pottery?

If you have reasons to believe that your child might be at risk of lead poisoning, contact your health care provider to find out whether to perform a blood test for lead. This test is the only way you can tell if your child has an elevated lead level. Asking the right questions can help prevent lead poisoning in our children.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.