Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is toxic to humans. Lead has been used in products, manufacturing, and human activities for centuries, which has contributed to its widespread presence. Particulate matter containing lead can be transported through air, water, and soil. The US government has placed federal bans on lead in certain products that have helped to lower exposure. Lead poisoning is dangerous to everyone, but especially young developing children as it can produce severe irreversible health effects while appearing asymptomatic. Lead poisoning is one of the most common environmental diseases, but is also preventable.
The Wyoming Department of Health has been awarded a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a childhood lead poisoning prevention program. Program priorities are to ensure blood lead testing and reporting, enhance blood lead surveillance, and improve linkages of lead-exposed children to recommended services.
Children have greater health risks than adults because their bodies are still developing. Lead is absorbed in place of and inhibits the absorption of other minerals that are essential to proper brain and nerve development, such as iron and calcium. Children need minerals to help their bodies grow, so not only do they experience worse health effects but children also absorb more lead per body size. Additionally, due to their smaller body size, the same amount of lead absorbed by a child will result in a higher blood lead level (BLL) than it would for a larger adult.
Children are also at greater risk of lead exposure due to their behavioral factors. Lead is more accessible to children due to their greater hand-to-mouth activity and the proximity of the child breathing zone to surface dusts. Children can get more lead dust on their hands from crawling around on the floor. They can ingest more lead dust by sucking on their fingers or putting toys or other objects contaminated with lead dust in their mouths. Lead tastes sweet, so once a child finds a source of lead they may return to it.
Lead Testing for Children
There is no safe blood lead level for children. It is recommended that all Wyoming residents are tested for lead at ages 12 months and 24 months.
Sources of Lead Exposure
Lead-based paint and dust hazards
Lead based paints were banned for residential use in 1978; homes built before then are likely to have lead paint. Deteriorating paint that peels or cracks creates lead paint chips and dust. Surfaces that experience friction such as windows, doors, floors, stairways, and cabinets are especially likely to create lead dust. Lead paint hazards can be controlled by replacing doors and windows, removing paint with a method that minimizes dust and fumes, or covering the surface with sheet rock, paneling, or encapsulants to create a barrier between the paint and the environment. Conventional paint is not an encapsulant. Home sellers and landlords of buildings built prior to 1978 must disclose information on lead-based paint hazards.
Lead contaminated water hazards
The most common sources of lead contamination in drinking water is the corrosion of lead pipes, faucets, and solder. Water that is hot, acidic and soft (low in dissolved solids) is the most corrosive towards lead. Lead cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted in drinking water. Local water authorities can help test for and identify lead in your tap water. Using bottled water or a “point-of-use” filter can help reduce or eliminate lead hazard in drinking water.
Lead contaminated soil hazards
Lead can be deposited into the soil from deteriorating lead paint on the exterior of the house, a fence, or a garage. Soil near major roadways may also have higher levels of lead due to deposits from car exhaust that used leaded gasoline prior to its ban. Leaded gasoline is still allowed for racecar and airplane fuel, so soil near racetracks and airports may be at higher risk. Soil near industrial plants and orchards may also be at higher risk. Food should not be grown in soil that may contain high levels of lead.
Other common sources
- Imported candies
- Imported cosmetics
- Natural/herbal medicines
- Ceramic dishes and toys
- Certain lead-related occupations
- Hobbies such as hunting, target shooting, fishing, welding, painting, construction
Children usually do not present obvious or immediate symptoms of lead poisoning. Parents should speak with their pediatrician if they have any suspicions of a possible exposure. Childhood lead exposure can cause
- Damage to the developing brain and nervous system
- Learning and behavior problems
- Lower IQ
- Decreased ability to pay attention and underperformance in school
- Slowed growth and development
- Hearing and speech problems
- Kidney damage
- Decreased bone-mineral density
- Increased likelihood of dental cavities
Strategies to Prevent Lead Exposure
It is important to take steps to prevent lead exposure because there is no cure to lead poisoning and even low levels of lead can cause harm. The most effective prevention methods include the removal of lead hazards from the environment before the child is ever exposed.
- If you live in a house built before 1978, assume there is lead paint unless proven otherwise. Hire certified lead professionals for renovation, repair, or painting.
- Create barriers between your child and sources of lead. Close and lock doors with chipping, peeling, or flaking paint or apply temporary barriers such as furniture or tape to block children’s access to sources of lead exposure.
- Keep homes clean and dust free by regularly wet-mopping floors and wet-wiping windowsills. Do not dry sweep, this stirs up settled lead dust which can then be inhaled or resettled on surfaces.
- Regularly wash children’s hands and toys.
- When outside play in the grass to reduce potential exposure to soil contamination.
- Eat foods high in iron (lean red meats, fish, chicken, dried fruits), calcium (milk, yogurt, cheese, green leafy vegetables), and Vitamin C (oranges, tomatoes, green peppers) to reduce the absorption of lead.
- Ask your pediatrician to test your child at ages 12 months and 24 months to identify exposure before it gets worse.
- CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Home Page
- Locate Certified Inspection, Risk Assessment, and Abatement firms
- Locate an accredited Inspection, Risk Assessment, and Abatement Training Programs
- Locate an accredited Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) training class
- Locate an accredited laboratory to analyze paint chip, dust, and soil samples
- Locate an accredited laboratory to analyze samples of drinking water
- Application for Renovation Firm’s Lead-Safe Certification
- Information on Home Testing Kits
- NIOSH Information on Indoor Firing Ranges
- Consumer Product Safety Commission Product Recalls
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration Recalls
- MyPlate Nutrition Information
- National Lead Information Center – Lead Hotline