Many children living in the Panhandle have blood levels high enough to cause significant damage to their health, estimates the Panhandle Public Health District based on data from a 2001-2005 state survey. Long-term exposure to even low levels of lead can cause irreversible learning difficulties, behavioral problems, and delayed neurological and physical development.
Lead in People
How do children get lead poisoning?
Inhaling or swallowing microscopic amounts of lead dust. This is more common than the stereotype of a child eating a highly toxic paint chip. Lead dust can come from deteriorating lead paint or lead-contaminated soil.
How can I tell if my child has lead poisoning?
A blood test is the only way to know. Children are most vulnerable in the womb and through age 6 because their developing bodies absorb lead easier and are more susceptible to damage. State health officials recommend annual tests through age 3 because that is when lead levels generally peak. Any child 4 through 6 who hasn't been checked should be. Also, high-risk children 4 through 6 should be tested annually. Annual tests are necessary because lead poisoning can occur at any time.
What children are considered at high risk?
Children who live or spend a lot of time in homes built before 1950; children in pre-1978 homes that are being renovated or repainted; children who have a friend or sibling with lead poisoning; children whose yards are highly contaminated. Minority children are disproportionately affected.
What can lead poisoning do to my child?
Prenatal exposure can lead to premature birth or smaller babies. Lead can damage the nervous system, interfere with growth, lessen intelligence, harm hearing, affect behavior by possibly making the child more excitable and less able to concentrate. In extreme cases, it can lead to coma and death.
How about adults?
Lead can cause reproductive problems in men and women; high blood pressure, kidney and digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, muscle or joint pain
Lead in the house
Water leaves the purification plant without lead in it but by the time you turn on your tap, dangerous amounts may have accumulated. This is because water may dissolve lead that is present in brass or bronze faucets and fittings, lead pipes or lead solder. Two factors influence the extent of this problem: your water's characteristics (many utilities treat water to minimize the presence of lead) and the age of your fixtures. Older fixtures can develop a protective coating from deposits in the water. Because Midlands water is hard, lead is less of a problem here, but individual homes could have a problem. If you haven't used your water for several hours, run your tap water until it turns cold before using it for cooking or drinking. Some health officials recommend 15 to 30 seconds, others recommend two to five minutes. Don't use hot tap water for cooking or drinking because it dissolves lead more readily. Never feed children formula or juices made from the first stream of water out of your faucet in the morning or from water that has sat in pipes for hours. Boiling water will not eliminate lead.
Lead can be present in storage containers made from poorly glazed pottery, imported cans with lead seams, antique pewter, some imported pottery, porcelain and leaded glass. Don't store food, especially acidic food, for long periods in any of these. Lead dust on counters, dishes and hands also can contaminate food, so it is important to clean surfaces and hands before cooking or eating. Good nutrition reduces the body's absorption of lead. Feed your child a diet high in iron and calcium (spinach, fortified cereal, peanuts, milk, yogurt, cheese)
Other sources of lead around the house include:
- Old bathtubs
- Lead wicks in candles (wicks with metal in middle may contain lead)
- Fishing weights
- Hobbies such as stained glass making or target practice.
- Jobs such as construction, demolition, painting, battery work, or radiator repair can expose a person to lead, which can be brought home on clothing.
- Drapery and window weights
- Folk remedies such as "greta" and "azarcon."
- Brass keys
- Battery casings
- Old toys or furniture may be painted with lead paint.
- Some imported plastic mini-blinds.
Lead paint, which was prized for its durability, was used in high traffic and high moisture areas until it was banned in for residential use 1978. Before about 1940, 10 percent to as much as 50 percent of a can of paint was lead. By the1950s, manufacturers had begun decreasing the amount of lead in paint. If your paint has an alligator-cracking pattern or rubs off in your hands in a chalky fashion, it probably contains lead. Unless testing proves the absence of lead, health officials recommend that people assume that painted surfaces in homes built before 1978 may contain some lead. Removing lead paint can create more problems than leaving it intact. Lead paint in good shape generally should not be removed. Lead paint that is chipping, peeling and cracking needs to be addressed. Even if your lead-painted windows or doors aren't chipping, you could have a problem. The friction from opening and shutting a door or window produces lead dust. If you are going to remove lead paint, learn how to do so safely. Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These create large amounts of lead dust and fumes that can remain in your home for a long time. Even if you do not have children, sandblasting or pressure washing the outside of your home may harm your neighbor's children.
To remove paint
Educate yourself about safe practices. Wet down the paint before you scrape or sand it. A power sander should have a hood to trap dust and a HEPA vacuum attachment. Cover ground or floors with drop cloths that can be discarded. Temporarily move children, pregnant women and pets out of a home during renovation or paint removal. Clean area with soap and water before allowing them back. If you can't move them out, seal off work area.
Cleaning house where lead is a problem
Wet-mop your floors, window sills, steps, grates, registers, baseboards and other hard surfaces weekly. Thoroughly rinse mops or sponges when you are done. Discard dirty water down the toilet or a floor drain. Do not pour in yard. Put washable door mats at all entries of home and wash weekly. Have people remove shoes before coming indoors. Consider replacing carpeting with non-porous flooring such as tile or wood, so that it's easier to clean and traps less lead dust. Wash clothes contaminated with lead separately from others. Be sure your child washes his hands often, especially before eating or nap time. Wash toys and pacifiers often. When washing clothes, mats or wiping down your house, use anall-purpose cleaner. If you vacuum, use a HEPA filter so that you don't throw lead dust into the air.
Lead in the yard
Sources of lead Paint.
The soil around a house, garage, fence, outbuilding or former building site could be highly contaminated by deteriorated lead paint. If the home has been sandblasted or pressure washed, the contamination could extend further out. Lead-based insecticides. Industrial air pollution. Automotive exhaust. Gasoline no longer contains lead, but soil along roadways and driveways could have been contaminated from automotive exhaust when leaded gasoline was used. If a shade-tree mechanic repaired cars in your yard, the area where he worked could be highly contaminated. If your yard is contaminated The easiest and cheapest thing to do is to cover bare dirt. Exposed soil is a greater hazard than grassy or covered soil. And it's more serious if it's in an area where children play. For example, the federal standard for bare soil where children play is 400 parts lead per million soil, compared to 1,200 parts per million if children don't play there. Fence off the soil until you can get it covered.
To cover soil:
Mix in compost to dilute the lead concentration in soil. Lay down fresh sod or seed yard. Cover with six inches of lead- and arsenic-free wood chips, mulch, new soil or sand. Lay newspaper, black plastic or black cloth under the mulch. Pave over bare areas. Or install a deck and then block off the area underneath, perhaps with latticework. Plant bushes around your home to keep pets and children away from the foundation. Mulch under shrubs. Pets can bring lead dust indoors too, so inspect their play area for bare spots.
What about gardening?
Test soil before gardening next to a building built before 1978 or along a roadway or driveway. Depending upon the level of contamination, you may need to restrict the type of produce grown or bring in fresh soil to do raised-bed gardening. Although some produce can absorb lead from the soil, the bigger hazard is microscopic amounts of lead clinging to the exterior of the plant and lead exposure from working in contaminated soil. Discard outer leaves of leafy plants. Thoroughly wash all vegetables with soapy water or a 1 percent vinegar solution (1 to 2 ounces of vinegar to 1 gallon of water). To reduce the amount of lead plants absorb, maintain soil pH above 6.5, keep phosphorus levels high and add organic matter.
For Blood Tests, see your doctor. Medicaid pays for lead tests; most insurance plans do too.
For Soil Tests, call the University of Nebraska Soil and Plant