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Children's Health

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Lead Poisoning and Kids

Lead Poisoning: What It Is, How to Test, What to Do

What Is Lead Poisoning? continued...

Everybody agrees that there is no "safe" level of lead exposure. However, the CDC doesn't recommend taking action unless a child's blood-lead level exceeds 10 micrograms/dL -- a threshold set in 1991. Rosen says that's far too high.

"There are now seven peer-reviewed articles in the medical literature that indicate the major loss of IQ occurs in children at blood-lead levels of less than 7.5 micrograms/dL," Rosen says. "A threshold of 10 is no longer protective of children. ... I would very strongly suggest lowering the threshold to 5, based on abundant data in the last five years."

The CDC says about 310,000 American kids (1 to 5 years old) have blood-lead levels over 10 micrograms/dL.

A U.S. child's main risk of lead poisoning comes from the lead-based house paints in near-universal use before 1950. The paints were banned for housing use in 1978. An estimated 24 million U.S. housing units -- which some 4 million young children call home -- have deteriorated lead paint contributing to lead-contaminated house dust.

"Very small particles of paint get into household dust you cannot see," Rosen says. "That gets on hair, fingers, toys, and skin. Through normal hand-mouth activity, that paint is absorbed."

How long it takes a child to absorb toxic levels of lead depends on the concentration of lead in the dust. Rosen says that in a typical lead-contaminated housing unit, it takes one to six months for a small child's blood-lead levels to rise to a level of concern.

"If the amount of hand-to-mouth activity is robust, and the concentrations of lead in that housing unit are substantial, it does not take long," he warns.

What about the recently discovered lead paint on children's toys?

"In terms of pervasiveness and widespread distribution of those toys, only time will tell how many children will be identified who develop lead poisoning. At the present time that is unknown, although the risk is definite," Rosen says.

  • As you sort through your child's toy box, are you thinking of asking your pediatrician for a lead poisoning test ? Some folks on our Parenting: 9-12 Months message board are doing just that. Read their comments and share yours.

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