A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Let’s talk about lead: 3 things parents should know

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In older homes, windows are a main source of potential lead poisoning. As they are opened and closed, lead paint can chip off and potentially be ingested by young children.

Lead poisoning is a hot topic in light of the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but parents need to be mindful of more than just their water supply.

Older homes pose risk

Dr. David Holz, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician, said lead paint in older homes is the most common source of lead poisoning in children. Homes built before 1950 or 1978 either had no lead paint regulations or regulations that were not strict enough.

Over time, lead paint chips off of walls and windows. As children play on the floor and put their hands in their mouths, they may ingest lead paint.

With Flint the obvious exception, city water is generally well-regulated and tested often, Holz said. People with private water sources may need to do their own testing.

Effects of lead poisoning

Children with elevated lead levels may experience low IQ, behavioral problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, memory problems and challenges in speech and language development, Holz said. High levels of lead in the body can create fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, anemia and severe neurological problems. In extremely high doses without correction, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Lead poisoning is more concerning for children than adults.

“One reason for this is children’s brains are developing,” Holz said. “Also, children up to age 6 are still developing their blood-brain barrier, which works to keep toxic chemicals outside of the brain circulation.”

What should parents do?

A child acting “overly and persistently irritable” over several months could indicate lead poisoning, Holz said. Parents should watch their children for persistent headache, fatigue, stomach pain, and tingling or numbness in hands and feet.

“If you have lead paint, you can have a company come out and remove it, though this can be very expensive,” Holz said.

Parents with lead paint in the home should:

  • Clean window sills with soap and water every week. These are common sources of lead exposure because windows are opened and closed often.
  • Have children wash their hands before eating and sleeping.
  • Keep floors clean, washing hardwood floors with soap and water.

Your home may not have lead pipes providing water service, but your pipes may have lead soldering joining them together. Water sitting in pipes may dissolve lead off this soldering, tainting the water supply.

Clear potentially tainted water by running the faucet for a few minutes, allowing fresh water to come through. Holz cautioned that not all water filters successfully remove lead from tap water.

If you’re concerned your child has been exposed to lead, make an appointment with a provider.

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