By LaDell Emmons
The following is an article written by Dr. Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer and housing specialist:
As hard as parents try, it is impossible for them to protect their children from every hazard. However, one thing they can shield their kids from is lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is completely preventable. Families just have to be very watchful in identifying, then removing or controlling, any lead hazards in the home or other places where their kids spend lots of time.
All children under the age of 6 are at risk because they have a tendency to put their hands and other objects possibly contaminated with lead dust into their mouths. Also, kids who live in older residences are at highest risk.
Lead-based paint and dust contaminated with lead are the main sources of exposure for kids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the United States banned the use of lead-based paint in housing in 1978, the deterioration of paint containing the highly toxic metal is still an issue. Children also may be exposed by playing with antique or collectible toys, as well as toys imported from other countries.
Although rare, lead can be found in drinking water flowing from corroded household plumbing materials and water service lines containing the metal. While this is more likely to occur in homes built before 1986, newer houses carry risk as well. Legally “lead-free” plumbing could contain as much as 8 percent lead.
For families concerned about lead contaminating the drinking water, you should contact the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality at 405-702-1000 to have it tested. Meanwhile, cook using cold water and allow the water to run for two to three minutes before first use each day. Boiling will not remove the lead from the water.
Other potential sources of lead include artificial turf, some candies, certain cosmetics and some imported vinyl (plastic) mini-blinds. It is critical to figure out the year your house was constructed. The same goes for other places where your kids spend significant time, such as other family members’ homes or childcare facilities.
In houses built before 1978, it is best to sweep up paint chips and dust and/or vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
Besides ensuring kids do not have access to peeling paint or surfaces coated with lead-based paint, parents should frequently clean kids’ hands and toys, both of which can be tainted by household dust or exterior soil. Use a wet mop or cloth and clean floors, walls and window sills often.
Outside, create play areas away from bare soil and remove bare soil from around the sides of the home. Plant grass where there is bare soil, or cover it with mulch or wood chips, if possible.
Lead poisoning can be difficult to detect, and a blood test is the only way to confirm the condition. The CDC recommends action if a child’s elevated blood lead level (EBLL) is 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health there were a total of 149 EBLL cases in Oklahoma in 2010.
If left untreated, lead poisoning could cause damage to the brain and kidneys, learning disabilities, language and behavioral issues, lower IQ and hearing loss among other effects.
For more information about lead poisoning, visit the OSDH website at www.ok.gov/health or the CDC at www.cdc.gov.
For more information in Pittsburg County, call 918-423-4120 or log onto www.oces.okstate.edu/pittsburg.
LaDell Emmons is the Extension family and consumer sciences educator for the Pittsburg County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.