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Give Your Baby the Best Start

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Landrigan has seen it happen: A young couple with an older home renovates a room to create a nursery. "Three, four months pregnant, they start sanding down the old paint," he says. "Then mom shows up at the hospital with a blood level of 50 or 60 -- sky-high -- which will go from her bloodstream and poison the baby."

You have several options when it comes to testing for lead. A lead paint test runs about $100 to $200. You need a properly certified inspector from the EPA or your state health department to do the testing in your home.

A less expensive method is a paint chip test, which your local health department can do; it costs from $20 to $50.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a safety alert on its web site about lead-based paint, testing, and guidelines on how to remedy the situation.

If you can't remove the lead paint, you may want to consider finding a new place to live, says Landrigan. There's little chance of lead poisoning with a house built after 1978. Sellers and landlords are required to disclose known lead hazards in houses and apartments built before 1978.

2. Cancel the pest control service. Heavy use of pesticides has the potential to damage a baby's brain, says Landrigan. "These chemicals were developed to destroy an insect's nervous system -- and they have the same effect on a child. It just takes more of the stuff," he says.

What can you do? Instead of spraying pesticides, use the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). It suggests that chemical pesticides be used as the last resort. Instead, reduce pests by simple measures:

  • Meticulously cleaning food residues off plates and cookware.
  • Sealing cracks that are a point of entry for roaches.
  • Remove any sources of water.
  • Get rid of any breeding places (like litter or standing water outside the house).

The EPA provides easy-to-understand guidelines on IPM at two sources -- a brochure titled "Citizens Guide to Pest Control and Pest Safety" and a fact sheet, "Do's and Don'ts of Pest Control." Or, you can check with your local USDA extension office. The nonprofit organization Beyond Pesticides has information about potential health impacts of pesticides and nontoxic alternatives for almost any type of pest problem. They also have a list of companies that employ safer methods if you need to call in experts.

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