Parents Magazine: What to Know about Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is a danger that's overlooked by parents and pediatricians alike.

By Bliss Broyard, Parents Magazine

Whenever I hear someone talking about purchasing an older home or renovating a house, I find myself turning into one of those parents who spews frightening statistics and unsolicited advice. I do this because I'm sure that if I had known someone whose child was lead poisoned, I would have been a lot more cautious when renovating our home -- and my son wouldn't have become sick himself.

But raising concerns about lead can make people roll their eyes. On, one parent dismissed a query about the dangers of lead with the frequently made argument that "Everyone born before 1975 grew up in a lead-painted home. We all survived." Even my own pediatrician made me feel as if I was overreacting when I asked at my son's 6-month well visit about the risks of lead paint in the home we'd just bought, which was built in the 1870s. She told me not to worry, saying that my son would be tested for lead at his one-year visit, and if there was any exposure, we'd catch it.

Looking back on this exchange, it's hard to reconcile such a blasé reaction with the facts: Like nerve gas and snake venom, lead is a neurotoxic chemical. Exposure to it can cause long-term damage to a child's developing brain. In young children, elevated levels have been linked to lower IQ, limited attention span, behavioral problems, and the inability to concentrate. Both children and pregnant women are at the highest risk of health problems. Even at the lowest levels of exposure, lead causes brain injury in children, according to Parents advisor Philip Landrigan, M.D., director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. It was Dr. Landrigan's groundbreaking study of kids living near a lead-smelting factory in Texas that helped convince the government to ban lead from gas in 1975 and from household paint in 1978. One in three American homes still contains lead-based paint. Most of these are in the Northeast and Midwest, but any home built before 1978 is potentially hazardous.

Frighteningly, once a child has been exposed, it's too late to reverse the effects. Despite my doctor's promise that we'd "catch it," there is no treatment or medical solution. As lead-poisoned children get older, they exhibit higher rates of dyslexia and other learning disabilities, as well as increased dropout rates; as teenagers, they're more likely to commit crimes.

Read more>

Learn More