Children Can Be Harmed by Lead Exposure
October 18, 2022
Because there is no safe blood lead level and no cure for lead poisoning, testing for lead exposure and taking steps to help prevent harmful effects are recommended for Wyoming’s children, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).
“Even low levels of lead can harm children,” said Forrest Sharp, Blood Lead Prevention Program manager and epidemiologist with WDH.
Young children are more likely to experience lead’s negative effects because their bodies are still developing, they absorb more lead per body size and habits such as mouthing and crawling can introduce more contaminants.
In 2021 WDH received blood lead testing reports for an estimated 3.1 percent of Wyoming children under 6 years old. Blood lead tests are recommended for children ages 12 months and 24 months, children with other family members exposed to lead and pregnant women who think they may have been exposed to lead.
Sharp said he’d like to see higher testing rates because childhood lead exposure can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, learning and behavior problems, slow growth and development, and hearing and speech problems.
“For children, these effects can cause learning difficulties, decreased ability to pay attention and underperformance in school,” he said.
Children are primarily exposed to lead through lead-based paint, lead-contaminated soil and lead-contaminated drinking water.
Sharp noted lead-based paint was used for many homes built before 1978. “Unfortunately, children can inhale lead dust created by deteriorating paint, eat paint chips or chew on surfaces such as window sills coated in lead dust,” he said.
Contaminated soil can come from exterior lead-based paint that falls onto the surrounding soil. Drinking water can be contaminated by lead pipes, faucets and fixtures.
“One thing that can be surprising to some people is learning they can bring home lead on their work clothes, depending on how they spend their days,” Sharp said. Other potential sources of lead include toys, painted furniture and jewelry, as well as important health remedies, food/candy, cosmetics and lead-glazed ceramics.
Recommended actions to help prevent lead exposure include:
- Fixing peeling or chipping lead-based paint
- Regularly cleaning surfaces using wet methods
- Washing children’s hands, pacifiers and toys
- Removing shoes before entering the house
- Washing clothes and showering immediately after lead-related work or hobbies
For homes built before 1978, Sharp said it can be a good idea to hire a certified inspector or risk assessor to check for lead hazards.
Early intervention is key to reducing long-term harmful effects. If testing reveals a child has lead in the blood, WDH recommends:
- Finding and removing the source of lead from the child’s environment
- Feeding the child a diet high in iron and calcium
- Considering early educational services
- Following up with additional blood lead testing and treatment as needed
For more information about lead testing and prevention recommendations in Wyoming, please contact Sharp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-777-5606.
National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week Begins October 23