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Lead Poisoning Causes Significant Damage to Children; Be Aware and Prevent Exposure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly a quarter of a million children living in the United States have blood lead levels high enough to cause significant damage to their health. If high blood lead levels are not detected early, children can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system and develop behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing issues, and aggressive behavior patterns.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) encourages parents to learn more about childhood lead poisoning prevention, especially during the week of October 20 through October 26, 2019, National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children are more likely to be exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil, or from playing with toys with lead paint.

In addition to eating and drinking food or water containing lead or using dishes or glasses that contain lead, the EPA warns that adults may also breathe lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure as can certain folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.

Fortunately, several services are made available to the families of children diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels in Alabama. The Alabama Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is the product of the collaborative efforts of the ADPH bureaus of Family Health Services and Environmental Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Alabama Medicaid Agency. Its mission is to help every child in Alabama develop to his or her maximum potential and promote a healthy lifestyle and environment which will prevent further lead exposure. The program provides public outreach and education, case investigation, and case management services to help prevent further lead exposure in Alabama's children.

Simple steps like keeping your home clean and well-maintained will go a long way in preventing lead exposure. The EPA recommends the following steps to reduce the chances of exposure to lead in your home:

  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration.
  • Address water damage quickly and completely.
  • Keep your home clean and dust-free.
  • Clean around painted areas where friction can generate dust, such as doors, windows, and drawers. Wipe these areas with a wet sponge or rag to remove paint chips or dust.
  • Use only cold water to prepare food and drinks.
  • Flush water outlets used for drinking or food preparation.
  • Clean debris out of outlet screens or faucet aerators on a regular basis.
  • Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
  • Teach children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors.
  • Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with healthy low-fat diets high in calcium and iron absorb less lead.
  • If you are having home renovation, repairs, or painting done, make sure your contractors are Lead-Safe Certified, and make sure they follow lead-safe work practices.

For more information, go to alabamapublichealth.gov/aclppp or alabamapublichealth.gov/lead.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(October 2019)

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Page last updated: October 1, 2019