lead poisoning

Protecting Children’s Health from Lead Poisoning in Paints in the US and Around the World

Pictures of brightly painted playgrounds, schools, and day care centers make for cheerful spaces for smiling, laughing children. However, in many developing countries these colorful paints can actually pose a serious health threat because lead can still legally be used in paints in places where children live and play. Children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental hazards and are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from lead in paint.

Lead poses serious, lifelong health risks to children. As lead paints deteriorate, it enters the environment and can lead to lead poisoning. Some of the potential effects include sensory, motor, cognitive, and behavioral impacts that can result in lowered intelligence; reading and learning disabilities; impaired hearing, reduced attention span; hyperactivity; delayed puberty; reduced postnatal growth; and anemia.

The economic impact of the loss of IQ due to lead poisoning is significant as well. A recent study in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal estimated lost economic productivity due to lead poisoning to be “a total cost of $977 billion of international dollars in low- and middle-income countries”. The health, social, and economic impacts of lead poisoning are devastating, but avoiding risk from lead in paint is something that we can easily address.

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Protecting Children from Environmental Health Risks

By Khesha Reed

EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment is driven in large part by our duty to protect our kids. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to make sure we’re doing all we can individually and as an agency to protect children from the environmental health risks they face.

Children are not little adults. They have different activity patterns, physiology, and susceptibility to environmental stressors than adults do. Kids eat, breathe, and drink more relative to their body mass than adults do, so it’s especially important that their air and water be clean and their food be healthy. And because they are still growing and developing, exposure to pollution—including mercury, lead, and chemicals—can be especially dangerous for kids.

This year, I’m proud that EPA has taken action to fight climate change, protect clean water, and promote safer pesticides—decreasing children’s health risks.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Protecting Our Children from Lead Poisoning

By Lina Younes

The other day, my husband and I met with a potential contractor to discuss some home repair projects. During our conversation, he asked if our home was built before 1978. While I gladly stated it wasn’t, I knew exactly why he asked: EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule requires contractors to follow safe lead practices when working on homes and child care facilities built before 1978. While the United States banned the sale of lead-based paint in 1978, paint and dust with lead can still be a problem in places built before then.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can seriously hurt people, especially kids. Elevated blood lead levels in children affect almost every organ in their bodies. In extreme cases, it can even be lethal. So, what can you do to protect your children and family?

  • Clean your home regularly, watching especially for deteriorating lead-based paint and paint chips or dust.
  • Wash your children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often.
  • Have your children wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors.
  • Feed your kids a healthy diet so their bodies will absorb less lead.
  • If you think your child could be at risk, consult your doctor about whether you should test how much lead is in your child’s blood.

The number of lead poisoning cases has steadily gone down since EPA banned lead in gasoline and residential paint. We’re trying to reduce them even further, though. This year, we’re working with our federal, state, and international partners through the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint.

We need to make special efforts to protect our children’s health: they’re more vulnerable than adults because of their size and behavior. For example, they eat and drink more in proportion to their weight. That intensifies the effects of exposure to lead and other contaminants. Furthermore, their habit of putting their hands and small objects in their mouths puts them at greater risk of swallowing lead from paint or dust particles. Since lead poisoning is totally preventable, wouldn’t you like to do your part to protect your child?

 

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lead Poisoning: The Single Most Significant Environmental Health Threat to American Children

By Marcia Anderson

Lead poisons huge numbers of people of all ages and walks of life, but most vulnerable are the very young. Although lead can affect adults, those most sensitive to lead’s adverse effects — and at highest risk — are infants, fetuses and children up to six years. Lead is now recognized as the single most significant environmental health threat to American children.

Lead in dirt is a persisting problem, which is why it is increasingly important to screen your child for lead poisoning based on the risk factors indicated in this post.

Special vulnerability of children: Children are in double jeopardy from the ill effects of lead, because their highest potential for exposure occurs due to their behavioral patterns: children engage in more hand-to-mouth activity than adults, and therefore ingest more contaminants in dust or dirt. This high exposure comes at a time when children’s bodies are building their vital organs and bones and lead is particularly toxic to their developing nervous systems. In addition, children’s bodies are not as efficient at depositing circulatory lead into their bones, and thus a higher percentage of the total lead in their bodies becomes available to exert toxic effects on their internal organs.

Children are usually exposed to lead by swallowing paint chips or dirt contaminated with lead. Since lead was an ingredient of paint prior to 1977, children living in older homes with chipping paint are the most at risk for lead poisoning. Children need to be screened for lead poisoning, especially if they have any of the following risk factors: If you live or often visit a house that was built before 1978 and has been remodeled in the past 6 months, or if you live in a zip code where more than 27% of the homes were built before 1950. New York State requires health care providers to test all children with a blood lead test at age 1 and again at age 2. Up to age 6, your doctor or nurse should ask you about ways your child may have had contact with lead. Check with your local health department to see if you live in a high risk area. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lead Poisoning: A Cumulative and Persistent Problem In our Homes (Part 1)

By Marcia Anderson

Lead poisons huge numbers of people of all ages and walks of life, and the effects of lead most often present themselves as chronic and debilitating. The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable. So, despite the dramatic reduction in sources of lead exposure, lead poisoning remains a reality for a disturbingly high number of people in this country. Though lead is no longer added to gasoline, paint or plumbing fixtures, very little has been done in most states to eliminate the hazards posed by lead in existing paint and plumbing systems and lead-contaminated soil and dust. In 1995 the federal government estimated that 83 percent of the privately owned homes built before 1980 contain some lead-based paint, with 23 percent of these homes with soil lead levels in excess of 400 ppm.

Most exposure occurs at Home. When lead paint peels or is disturbed — even during minor renovations — lead-containing dust is produced. Lead dust is one of the most common ways in which people are exposed to lead. Lead dust may not be visible to the naked eye however, most lead dust forms as a result of flaking paint or when paint is scraped, sanded or disturbed during home remodeling If swallowed, even the tiniest lead particles are dangerous. Exterior paint is even higher in lead content and thus more dangerous when it becomes accessible to the interior at windowsills.

People are poisoned by inhaling and ingesting these tiny particles that flake off by opening and closing of windows and doors. These lead particles settle on windowsills, wood floors, and in carpeting and other low-lying areas. Similarly, flakes and particles from exterior paint accumulate in the soil outside a house. The finer particles can easily blow into homes and offices as dust. The concentration of lead in soil adjacent to homes with lead-based paint can be as high as 10,000 ppm.

How can I tell if my house has lead in or around It? The older the house, the greater the risk. If your house has lead paint, it is best to find a qualified lead abatement professional to get rid of it. Removing lead paint yourself can be very dangerous, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

I have lead in my home and nowhere else to go. What do I do? Natural indoor air currents keep microscopic dust particles in the air. You can keep the dust out of the air with an ionizer or negative ion generator. This is a temporary fix. When an ionizer is running, the negative ions cause the dust particles floating in the air to be attracted to one another and stick together. When a bunch of them stick together and form a bigger clump of dust particles they become heavy enough to sink down to the floor and they can be vacuumed up. The main goal of an ionizer is to get the dust out of the air so that it cannot be breathed in.

Concerned about lead in your environment? Go to www.epa.gov/lead , or call 311 in New York City or call the National lead hotline: 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

About the author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Week for Happy, Lead-Free Kids

By Esther Kwon

Among the long list of things my parents told me to be afraid of when I was a child, lead-based paint was never one of them. Perhaps the reason why I was able to grow up without worrying about what was coating the swing set I played on and what kind of paint was on the walls in my room was because of the federal regulations and efforts made since the late 1970s to prevent children and adults from being affected by lead-based paint poisoning. However, it saddens me to know that there are still so many children who are exposed to lead-based paint hazards in and near our homes.

I came to the EPA as an intern to learn about the Agency’s regulatory rulemaking process for six months, but I did not expect to gain so much knowledge about lead hazards and safety practices. For example, I found out about the types of cognitive disorders that could occur in children from lead poisoning, and learned that even a few particles of lead in the dust are enough to poison a child. More than 1 million children are affected by lead poisoning today, and this is especially troublesome, in my opinion, because lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable. Although, as an intern, the scope of power I have at the EPA is extremely limited, I am thankful that I can assist in any way that furthers the Agency’s public health protection and education goals for lead poisoning prevention, including reaching you through this blog.

This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a week dedicated to educating parents and children on the dangers of lead-based paint exposure and the importance of the health and safety of our homes. To participate, you do not have to donate money or start a march for the cause. You can help by simply spreading the knowledge to your friends and family that lead in paint is still a problem in the US and that lead-based paint exposure can be prevented. Send an E-card on lead-safe work practices or print out a poster and hang it at your work place or at school. You can also find great prevention information and a neat web tool to help parents identify common danger zones for lead in older homes built before 1978. Check it out. Read about the facts and act on them.

About the author: Esther Kwon is an intern for the Lead, Heavy Metals & Inorganics Branch in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. She will be returning to Smith College in December, where she will be graduating in the spring.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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"Preventing Lead Poisoning"

Picture this: You live in a gorgeous older row home in Washington D. C. Although it’s a “fixer upper”, you bought it for its unmatched Victorian charm and its unbeatable location (Who doesn’t want to live next to a cupcake shop?). You finally decide it’s time to remodel the kid’s room and update the kitchen, but your spidey-sense is going off because you know that renovating a pre-1978 homes with lead paint can have risks. What’s the next step?

  • Do a search on the internet about EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule
  • Look for a contractor, but make sure to ask them if they are EPA Lead-Safe Certified
  • Check with your pediatrician about testing your children for lead

The answer is: All of the above — And don’t forget to share what you learn on your neighborhood list serve!

Learning about Lead-Safe renovations is one of the many actions you can take to prevent lead poisoning during Lead Poisoning Prevention Week this October 24-30, 2010.

This year for Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, consider taking concrete steps to make a difference (or tell a neighbor):

  1. Get Your Home Tested. Ask for a lead inspection if you live in home built before 1978.
  2. Get Your Child Tested. Ask your doctor to test your young children for lead even if they seem healthy.
  3. Get the Facts. Read more information about preventing childhood lead poisoning

Tell us, what are you doing to spread the word or learn more about Lead Poisoning Prevention.

About the author: Christina Wadlington joined EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics in July 2008 and works in the National Program Chemicals Division.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Veterans, Visitors, And More!

My late grandfather was always full of advice and giving out tips. Whenever he visited, he always came with newspaper clippings and all sorts of articles from magazines. He had all sorts of information for everyone and would talk with each of us grandchildren or children about the information he found. He also would constantly remind me to tell people to spell my last name correctly. Even if it was ordering a pizza and giving your last name. No place was left out of hearing the spelling of our, somewhat lengthy, surname. Make sure you tell them two n’s, not one, he would say. He has made me so very proud of my family’s history. I learned a lot from his words of wisdom, more than I could type out in this blog. I always think about him, especially this time of year, when my grandparents would come and visit us in the fall. I also remember him around November because he was a World War II veteran. As Veteran’s Day quickly approaches, I thought I might provide some reminders of my own, to grandparents, parents, or any veteran out there with little ones. Here are some tips to keep in mind when kids come over to visit and stay with you, some things that you may not even think about normally, but may be important when you have younger company coming over.

  • Make sure to wash children’s hands before they eat and also wash fruits and vegetables.
  • In older homes particularly, make sure to wash floors and window sills to protect kids from dust and peeling paint that could be contaminated with lead.
  • Store pesticides and toxic chemicals far out of reach where children can’t get to them; try to put them in a locked cabinet or area first.
  • Make sure you close any container marked ‘child resistant’ very tightly after the product has been used. Child resistant does not mean child proof so you should still be careful with products with child-resistant packaging.
  • Store food and trash in closed containers to prevent pests from coming inside.
  • Don’t let children handle or play with mercury. (Find out where mercury containing product recycling programs are in your area.)
  • Hide medical prescriptions in a locked up location or a secure place so children can not reach them or mistake them for candy.

So as visitors start to pile in, especially children, take a moment to look over these tips and apply them around your home. Also, take some time to remember all of the veterans out there and all that they have given while serving our country.

About the author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Learning to Keep Children Healthy

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children and like to see them grow healthy. I have taught my daughters to wash their hands, eat nutritious meals, wear protective equipment when practicing sports, and to wear sun block. Now that they are teenagers, I talk to them about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drugs, and of course…boys. However, working for the EPA has given me an increased awareness about another set of dangers—environmental exposures.

In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on protecting children from environmental contaminants and learning how the differences in behavior and physiology affect their exposures. I remember as a child playing with mercury, pouring it on the floor and pushing the silver blobs around with my fingers to form a bigger blob. We didn’t know it was bad for us, and neither did our parents.

Since then, the potential health effects from exposure to mercury and other toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and pesticides have become the focus of environmental policies. We have also learned that diet is an important route of exposure to pesticides and other substances in the environment.

But, why are children a concern and how are their exposures different from those of adults?

Children’s organ systems are still developing and they may be more susceptible to environmental exposures. Their behavior and habits can also put children at higher risks. We have learned that contaminants can be deposited in toys and objects that children put in their mouth. Contaminants can also find their way into the milk of lactating mothers. Another example: on average, children younger than one year old inhale approximately six times the amount of air by body weight than an adult.

I love that my job helps me learn about keeping my kids healthy. But, even if you don’t work here, EPA has developed lots of useful information to share. Our Children’s Health Protection web site is a great place to start if you are looking for generalized information. One source I’ve been involved with, the Highlights for the Child-Specific Exposure Factors Handbook, provides risk assessors, economists, and others a wealth of data and EPA recommendations on exposure factors needed to estimate childhood exposure to toxic contaminants.

image of author sitting at deskAbout the author: Jacqueline Moya is a chemical engineer with EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She has been with EPA for 25 years. Her work focuses on increasing our understanding about exposure to susceptible populations.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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