Lead in Children
Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal that is toxic when it enters our bodies. Although the use of lead in housing paint, gasoline, and drinking water pipes has been reduced or eliminated, old and new products containing lead can still be found in our environment. The products can contribute to lead poisoning. Even small amounts of lead can result in poor health outcomes. All people can be affected by lead, but lead is most dangerous to children, especially those under six.
In children, lead is most damaging when they are six years and younger. Children are growing at a very fast rate - growing bones, developing stronger muscles and creating many connections in their brain. When lead instead of essential nutrients is "available" to the body to make bones, muscle, and brain connections, permanent harm to health can occur. Even at levels below current standards, lead can be harmful and be associated with:
- Learning disabilities resulting in a decreased intelligence (decreased IQ)
- Attention deficit disorder
- Behavior issues
- Nervous system damage
- Speech and language impairment
- Decreased muscle growth
- Decreased bone growth
- Kidney damage
High levels of lead are life threatening and can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and death.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has set a reference level of 5 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter. This level is not considered a safe threshold; instead it is meant to be a reference level to trigger public health action.
There is no known blood lead level for children without some level of risk for some of the adverse neurological effects of lead in children.
In pregnant women, there is sufficient evidence that maternal blood lead levels (BLL) <5 μg/dL is associated with reduced fetal growth or lower birth weight. BLL <10 μg/dL is associated with decreased postnatal growth, and concurrent BLL <10 μg/dL in children is associated with reduced head circumference, height, or other indicators of growth and delayed puberty.
Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry - More information on the health effects of lead at different levels.
Lead is a useful and common metal that has been used in products for hundreds of years.
Old paint containing lead is still the largest risk of lead exposure. Paint older than 1978 is of concern, but paint older than 1950 may have very high levels of lead. Lead can be released from old paint when it is chipping, peeling, cracking. Deteriorating paint can create dust contamination on the interior of the house and in soils near the house.
Although Washington State ranks 17th in the nation in number of homes built prior to 1950, certain parts of Snohomish County increases the risk of lead exposure because of the age of homes there.
Learn more about renovating and remodeling your home safely.
Lead has been found in inexpensive children's jewelry sold in vending machines and large volume discount stores across the country. It also has been found in inexpensive metal amulets worn for good luck or protection. Some costume jewelry designed for adults has also been found to contain lead. Teach children to keep jewelry out of their mouths, or do not allow children to have lead jewelry. Learn more from the CDC.
IMPORTED CANDIES and spices
Lead has been found in candy and candy wrappers imported primarily from Mexico and Asia. Learn how the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to control lead in imported candies.
California Department of Public Health - A list of the candy recalled for lead contamination.
Onondaga County - A list of folk medicines and ethnic spices, cosmetics and food containing lead.
HOBBIES AND ART
Some art supplies, such as artists' paint, still have lead in them. Buy only non-toxic paints for your children. Some hobbies require the use of lead, such as stained glass, firing guns, making ammunition, and making fishing lures and sinkers. Keep children away from areas where lead is being used. Be sure not to bring lead dust on your clothing into the home.
Information on lead in firing ranges.
Two possible sources of contaminated soil are leaded gasoline and industrial operations like smelters. While gasoline is generally no longer a major source of lead, decades of leaded gasoline left contamination in the soil next to roadways up to one-quarter of a mile from the road.
Historic smelter operations, such as the Everett copper smelter that operated in north Everett, may also have contaminated the soil. The Everett smelter was located near the corner of Marine View Drive and Broadway. It operated by Asarco from 1894–1912, but the contamination wasn't discovered until 1990. Washington State Department of Ecology has been working on cleanup of arsenic and lead contamination linked to the Everett smelter smokestack emissions and slag reuse.
Learn more about the Asarco smelter site.
TRADITIONAL REMEDIES OR COSMETICS
Some families use traditional home remedies to treat illnesses. Some remedies may contain up to 100 percent lead and are very dangerous to children. Home remedies that may contain lead:
- Azarcon and Greta, both fine orange powders (also known as Alarcon, coral, luiga, maria luisa, or rueda) may be used in the Hispanic community for indigestion or upset stomach.
- Paylooah, a red or orange powder, may be given to children in the Vietnamese and Hmong community as a cure for rash or fever.
- Ghasard, Bali Goli, and Kandu may be used for stomachaches in some Asian Indian communities.
Certain cosmetics, especially those from the Middle East, India, and Asia, may also contain high levels of lead. Cosmetics that may contain lead are Kohl, Kajal, Surma, and Sindoor.
Lead dust is one of the leading causes of lead poisoning in children. Lead dust is created where surfaces containing lead, such as windows, doors, steps and porches painted with lead paint, rub together. Lead dust can gather on floors, in carpets, on toys and other objects that children may put into their mouths. Remodeling or repainting can also increase the amount of lead dust in your home.
LEAD AT WORK
Adults who work in industries that use lead (battery manufacturing, pipe fitting, firing ranges, demolition, glass production, smelting operations, etc.) should be careful not to bring lead home with them. Shower and change clothes and shoes at work. Do not contaminate your car.
Information on lead in firing ranges.
Ceramic ware can be dangerous when it is covered with lead-containing glaze or paint. Lead may be added to brighten colors and provide a smooth finish. If you prepare, store or serve food and drinks in these types of ceramic ware, lead can get into your food or drinks and cause health problems. Minimize the use of these products or replace them with lead free products.
Drinking water may have lead in it, though permitted levels in municipal sources are regulated. The largest source of lead in drinking water occurs through leaching from lead-containing pipes, faucets, and solder, which can be found in plumbing of older buildings. If you have older pipes in your home, be sure to run the water for 60 seconds every morning before using it. Do not use hot tap water for drinking purposes.
Learn more about lead in drinking water.
If your child is under the age of six, you should talk to your doctor about testing your child for lead if you answer "yes" to any of the following questions:
- Is the child eligible for Medicaid or Apple Care?
- Does the child reside in or regularly visit pre‐1978 homes in poor condition or recently renovated?
- Does the child have a sibling or playmate who has or recently had a confirmed elevated blood lead level?
- Does your child spend time with anyone that has a job or hobby where they may work with lead?
- Do you have pottery or ceramics made in other countries or lead crystal or pewter that are used for cooking, storing or serving food or drink?
- Has your child ever taken any traditional home remedies or used imported cosmetics? Examples: Greta, Azarcon, Ghasard, Ba-baw-san, Sindoor and Kohl
- Has your child been adopted from, lived in or visited another country?
- Does your child live or regularly visit a home located near an airport or the Everett smelter?
- Do you suspect the child is at risk for lead exposure or does the child exhibit symptoms of lead poisoning (e.g. pica behavior, developmental delay, known exposure)?
Your child will have a blood test to find out if they have high levels of lead in their blood. The only way to know if a child has lead poisoning is to have the child tested for lead, because often no signs or symptoms are visible.
Learn more about blood lead testing.