Research continues to demonstrate just how bad lead is for the brains of children, and society itself. Exposure to fetuses during pregnancy, or to children in their first six years, can lower IQ and lead to behavioral problems and even crime and violence.
Lead has in recent months been identified in many toys, mostly made in China. It is still present in the paint of older homes, and it can be found in the dirt in some urban areas. While the public's focus has been on lead in toys, cracked and peeling paint in older homes is thought to be the major source of exposure to most children.
Here are six steps to help you identify and eliminate any lead exposure your child might experience:
Check the Toys
Start by visiting this Consumer Product Safety Commission Website, which allows you to search for toys and other products that have been recalled for safety reasons. Specifically look for toys and children's products that have been recalled because of lead.
When purchasing toys, ask retailers and toymakers how they ensure their manufacturers have adhered to high standards. Choose wooden toys and be extra careful about purchasing any toy that will end up like most do in your child's mouth.
Remove the Source of Lead
Any toy that has lead paint should be taken away from the child and discarded or, better, taken to the retailer or manufacturer for a refund or replacement with a safe alternative. The good news is that lead paint typically doesn't become a hazard until it deteriorates, flakes off and can be easily ingested and experts caution that the risk from Mattel's toys being recalled is low. However, because children often put toys in their mouths, the risk of exposure is still real, even with newer toys.
Consider Other Sources
The three leading causes of childhood exposure to lead are deteriorating lead-based paint in buildings, lead-contaminated dust in older buildings and lead-contaminated soil outside the home.
In homes built before 1978, chances are some paint in the house is lead, and the government estimates that 24 million homes around the United States still have lead paint. Local health departments often have resources to aid homeowners who want to test their homes for lead and reduce the chance that children will be exposed to old lead paint or other sources of lead.
Maintain Older Homes
Frequently use a damp mop to remove dust and keep older paint from peeling and cracking. And wash children's hands frequently before any lead-tainted dust on their fingers gets into their mouths.
Have Your Child's Blood Lead Level Tested
Ask your pediatrician to test your child's blood for lead. This is a test that should be routine, and any pediatrician should be able to do this. The risk of damage from exposure to lead is greatest when children are age 6 and under. The damage to the brain can be irreversible, so early diagnosis of elevated blood level is critical so parents can take steps to reduce or eliminate the exposure.
Approximately 310,000 U.S. children between the ages of one and five have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. At that level, the CDC recommends parents take action to identify and reduce exposure.
Do not take these test results lightly. If testing shows an elevated blood-lead level, take immediate action to identify potential sources of lead at home, the homes of family members, day care centers, schools or any other places where children spend time.
Ensure Good Nutrition
Ensure your child is eating a healthy diet, and particularly that he or she is eating the recommended amounts of calcium and iron.
A child with an iron deficiency can absorb up to 50% more lead than one with adequate iron in the diet. Good sources of iron include fortified cereals, meat, legumes, prunes, raisins and green leafy vegetables, and iron is best absorbed by the body if consumed with foods high in vitamin C.
Similarly, as calcium intake increases, the body absorbs less lead, so diets high in calcium are important for children exposed to lead.
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