What parents can do to protect kids from lead poisoning
The medical community is well aware about the dangers of lead for children. Recently, Flint, Michigan has been in the national spotlight due to very high lead levels in the area’s drinking water. The lead and its harmful effects are being blamed on the city’s poor decision to alter their water source and then its subsequent failure to properly treat the water with chemicals that are designed to prevent erosion of old pipes. Lead exposure is not a new problem, and doctors routinely monitor children in high-risk areas for elevated blood lead levels. In states where lead exposure is a problem, all children who participate in the Medicaid program are screened at age one and again at age two.
Nevertheless, parents would like to prevent accidental lead ingestion whenever possible. Decreasing lead exposure begins at home. The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a screening tool that parents can use to assess whether or not their home is at risk for lead. The site also has links for locating a trained professional to evaluate your home for lead and information on how to obtain testing for lead levels in your water. You can also call 1-800-424-LEAD, the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water hotline for information about lead in water and where to test your water.
In particular, homes that were built before 1986 that have lead pipes or non-plastic pipes are at risk for lead exposure. As the pipes age and begin to corrode, lead can be released into the drinking water. While most water utility companies check lead levels routinely in a random sampling of homes, the only way to know for sure if your home is clear is to have the water tested. There are commercially available kits that can be sent to reputable laboratories for testing. A link to local and state labs is available on the EPA website.
While you are awaiting results, or if your home has been found to have high lead levels, there are steps you can take to decrease the amount of lead ingested. First, consider replacing your drinking and cooking water with bottled water. Water filters, specifically ones designed to remove lead from tap water, are another option. These must be installed and used according to their manuals to ensure adequate removal of lead. The EPA recommends flushing the tap for several minutes, until the water is cold, each time the faucet has not been used in six or more hours. This helps clear any sediment that has settled in the pipes.
Finally, remember to inquire about the water at your child’s daycare or school if the building was built before 1986. If you have any concerns about lead exposure, address them with your pediatrician. A simple finger stick can be used to screen for lead exposure in all household members.