National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week: Keeping our Kids Healthy Starts at Home

By Jess Portmess

My new nephew is still too young to pick up toys or explore the floors and walls of the house on all fours. But if his daily growth is any indication, it’s not that far off. I didn’t imagine my clerkship with EPA could make me think of him more often than I already do. Yet, he’s the face I see as I learn more about how to protect children from lead-based paint hazards. He is, after all, among those who are the most sensitive to the dangers from lead-based paint.

As a law clerk with EPA, I hope to gain a better understanding of how EPA makes concrete strides in solving big environmental problems. With hundreds of thousands of children affected by lead poisoning, I’d say the “big” shoe fits. The inspiring and motivating reality is, however, that lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable. If you live in a home built before 1978, chances are it may have lead paint. That paint can wear over time, chipping away for a curious child’s hands or turning into dust that accumulates on the floor, window troughs, and other surfaces of your home. Renovations can disturb lead paint and spread more dust. But you can prevent these risks from affecting your family by regularly cleaning your home’s surfaces, maintaining painted surfaces, having your home inspected by a lead-safe certified professional, and renovating only with lead-safe certified contractors.

This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness about lead paint hazards, especially in the home. This week focuses on the many ways that parents can reduce a child’s exposure to lead and prevent its serious health effects. To start, learn the facts about lead, or have your home tested. You could even ask your doctor to test your child for lead.

Preventing lead poisoning can be simple and the consequences of inaction are too terrible to ignore. Lead-contaminated dust can slow a child’s growth, inhibit his learning, and damage his brain or central nervous system. As a law student passionate about environmental law and natural resources, you learn a lot about uphill struggles where the stakes are high. For my nephew’s sake, I know I’ll keep climbing and I hope you do too.

For more information about National Lead Poisoning Prevention week visit

About the author: Jess Portmess is a law clerk in the National Program Chemicals Division of EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. She will be graduating from American University Washington College of Law in May 2013.

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