Lead is a naturally occurring element that can be found in all parts of our environment, and elevated levels in the blood stream can contribute to a number of health issues, particularly for young children. For that reason, Cheyenne Laramie County Public Health is joining the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Centers for Disease Control, Prevention (CDC) in observing National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
Lead can be found in the air, soil, water and in our homes. Common sources of lead include lead-based paint (especially in homes built before 1978), lead dust in windowsills or door frames, in the soil around older homes with flaking lead-based paint or near contaminated sites like former smelters or where use of leaded gasoline was common. It can also be found in some painted toys, furniture, toy jewelry, cosmetics, food and plumbing materials among other sources. According to the EPA, “lead can enter drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures.” Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. Even hobbies like hunting, fishing, pottery and stain glass work, make exposure to lead more likely.
While there are some beneficial uses for lead, it can cause a number of health problems, with children and pregnant people most at risk. High lead exposure in children can result in:
- Behavior and learning difficulties;
- Lower IQ;
- Slowed growth;
- Hearing issues;
Additionally, in rare cases, ingesting lead can lead to seizures, coma or death. Children on Medicaid or living in HUD housing must be tested for blood lead levels at 12 and 24 months old, and it is recommended that all children with high risk for exposure are tested at the same age.
Lead accumulates in our bodies over time and is stored with calcium in our bones. Lead can be released from the pregnant parent’s bones and affect the fetus’ development in the following ways:
- Cause the baby to be premature;
- Harm the baby’s brain, kidney’s and nervous system;
- Increase the likelihood of learning or behavioral difficulties;
- Increase the pregnant parent’s chances of miscarriage
Adults can also be affected by lead exposure. It can cause heart issues like increased blood pressure and chance of hypertension. Too much lead exposure can also cause infertility in both men and women and can result in decreased kidney function.
The good news is that there are many ways to reduce the risk of lead exposure for yourself and your family.
- Keep all painted surfaces from chipping, especially if your home was built before 1978;
- Keep your home dust free
- Clean around areas that can generate dust, like windowsills, door frames and drawers. Be sure to remove any paint chips
- If you are renovating a home, hire a lead-safe contractor and keep dust and paint chips cleaned up
- Clean debris from outlet screens and faucet aerators on a regular basis
- Teach children to wipe and/or remove shoes and wash hands after playing outside
- Be sure to include calcium, iron and vitamin C into your child’s diet. These foods can help slow lead absorption into the body.
- Speak to a medical provider about testing your child’s blood lead level
- Visit epa.gov/lead for more lead resources
While lead can cause a number of health issues for children, lead poisoning is preventable. For questions, please visit clcpublichealth.org or call Cheyenne Laramie County Public Health at 307-633-4000.