Reviewed by Renee Alli on February 09, 2012


Philip Landrigan, MD; professor and chair, preventive medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine; director, Children’s Environmental Health Center. American Academy of Pediatrics. CDC.

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Video Transcript

Narrator: Young hands can sometimes get into big trouble…

Philip Landrigan, MD: …Ninety nine percent of the time when a child is exposed to lead or pesticides or some other toxic chemical, there's no visible injury what-so-ever…there're no signs there are no symptoms…

Narrator: The primary source of most lead poisoning nowadays is dust or chips from deteriorating lead paint. Lead paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978 but many older homes may still contain dangerous levels. Even an older child, who's not as likely to put paint chips directly into his or her mouth, can become contaminated if proper precautions aren't taken. Lead poisoning can affect the nervous system, immune function and diminish I-Q…

Philip Landrigan, MD: …That's why…that's precisely why it's so incredibly important to prevent children from being exposed in the first place.

Narrator: A number of toys are recalled each year due to excessive lead levels. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC advise that children be tested if there's a high likelihood a child has come into contact with any lead. While lead may be a major concern, it's not the only worry.

Philip Landrigan, MD: …We put lots of chemicals into consumer products and never really examined them to determine whether or not they're toxic….

Narrator: One example: phthalates-- a substance used to soften plastic products, it can be found in some soft rubber toys. Comprehensive testing is now underway to better understand the risks: Researchers like Dr. Landrigan, who study the effects environmental chemicals have on children, are also troubled by evidence linking pesticides to certain cancers…

Philip Landrigan, MD: …I understand the beauty of a perfect lawn that looks like a putting green—there's something inherently beautiful about it, but …people need to understand that you don't get a lawn like that in most parts of the United States unless you put a lot of chemicals on the lawn.

Narrator: Kids are especially vulnerable because their bodies are rapidly developing and they are more likely to play on lawns.

Steve Nygren: When we lived in the city it always bothered me when I would come home and I would see that a lawn service had been on a neighbor's yard and we weren't supposed to walk on it for 24 hours.

Narrator: Steve Nygren started this ecologically-friendly community outside of Atlanta called Serenbe as an alternative to the more traditional neighborhoods with heavier carbon footprints.

Steve Nygren: We want all natural landscaping—we don't allow lawns in people's front yards in fact.

Narrator: Indoor use of pesticides is also a health concern. However, exposure can be sharply reduced with proper planning:

Philip Landrigan, MD: ……use the chemical pesticides only as a last resort. What you do first is clean up food residues, keep the sink dry. Seal up the cracks and the crevices of the floor, at the corner of the wall where the bugs come in.

Narrator: Other ways to lessen the risk of toxic exposure… Remove shoes when coming inside, Make sure hands are washed often—especially before meals. Vacuum routinely—especially if you have wall-to-wall carpeting… And wipe down countertops, tables and other surfaces routinely with cleaners that don't contain harsh chemicals. For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.