The news that some communities have lead in their drinking water has led to confusion and fear that there may be other sources of potential lead exposure, especially to our children. Parents need to become detectives and use their normal due diligence to prevent lead exposure from becoming a problem. Young children are most at risk because they tend to put everything in their mouth.
Why is lead such a danger to young children? It can cause lowered IQ, speech delays, hearing loss, learning disabilities, slowed or reduced growth, behavioral difficulties, brain damage, kidney damage, seizures, coma, and in some severe cases, even death.
Are your children in danger even if you know for certain you don’t have lead-based paint or water in your house or apartment? The short answer is—maybe. Many children’s products have been found to contain higher-than-safe levels of lead. My 1-year old granddaughter’s blood was tested recently and results showed a slightly elevated lead level. Her parents were sure they did not have lead-based paint in their home or lead in their water, so where was it coming from? Her doctor asked if she had been chewing on any sponge toys; unbeknownst to many of us some of them contain lead.
Since lead is invisible and has no smell, how can you tell if it’s in your home? Unfortunately, most home test kits are unreliable. Besides the sponge toy example, check out the following potential contaminants—you may find that you have some of these potentially dangerous items in your home:
· Children’s jewelry
· Children’s products made of vinyl or plastic, such as bibs, backpacks, car seats and lunch boxes, children’s caulk, or pool caulk
· Brightly painted toys (wooden, plastic or metal) imported from Pacific Rim countries (China in particular), especially non-name brand toys. Avoid if paint is peeling or chipped.
· Antique toys and lunch boxes with metal linings
· Ceramic or pottery toys, dishes or cookware manufactured outside the U.S., especially if made in China, India, and Mexico
· Folk or home health remedies and certain cosmetics
· Candies from Mexico
· Artificial athletic fields made of nylon or a nylon and polyethylene blend can have unhealthy levels of lead dust
Items considered to be safe for children include:
· All toys manufactured in North American and European Union.
· Most plush toys
· Soy-based crayons or crayons made in the U.S.
· Books, DVDs and CDs.
What can you do?
· Check with your health care provider on whether your child should be tested for lead. Talk with your doctor about the results.
· Remove any possible lead containing items from your home. If you live in an older home (built before 1978) have the home inspected by a licensed lead inspector or check with the local health department on testing for lead paint.
· Clean up any lead dust if living in an older home.
· Remove items that may contain lead or lead-based paint, especially children’s jewelry and non-name brand toys made outside the U.S. Check the recall list for items that have been found to contain lead.
· Give your child healthy foods. Check out the OSU Chow Line article on “How Good Nutrition Can Combat Effects of Lead in Water” (will hyperlink before publishing)
· Practice good hygiene and wash your hands before eating and after playing outside or with pets.
· If you child plays on artificial athletic fields, check out this Mayo Clinic article on how to reduce exposure.
· Be cautious about items purchased at discount stores as most items are manufactured in China or other Pacific Rim countries.
Pat Brinkman is the Ohio State University Extension Educator for Family & Consumer Sciences.