Lead Pollution in Cities

In our modern world of immediate information, it becomes harder to get factual data regarding lead poisoning effects on humans. Persons normally think of lead exposure in children to be within regions of the US such as the Northeast which have the oldest buildings and homes. However, many houses and apartment buildings throughout the US (especially those built before 1978) still have lead-based paint on their walls. The year 2000 United States Census stated that over 70 million homes still contain lead-based paint. The primary cause of lead poisoning in children today is old paint with lead in it. The lead was finally banned as an additive in house paint in 1978 and was old for about another two years.

Who is affected?

Children under six are at greatest risk for the unhealthy effects associated with exposure to lead. Small children are most vulnerable due to two primary reasons:

1. They are more likely to place lead-polluted paint chips into their mouth.

2. A small child’s brain and central nervous system are still forming. Lead can interfere with the development of neurological systems as well as the kidney and blood-forming organs.

What are the Health Symptoms?

Exposure to lead can cause a host of detrimental health effects and may lead to serious health effects which vary from child to child. The National Academy of Sciences has written that “There is growing evidence that even very small exposures to lead can produce subtle effects in humans.” Any level of exposure to lead may result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, IQ deficits, stunted growth and impaired hearing. If children are exposed to high levels of lead, they can suffer from long-term kidney damage or become mentally retarded. There have been many cases of extreme lead exposures which lead to a coma or death.

Many parents report that they had no idea that their child had lead poisoning because the symptoms can be very subtle. For example, a child may exhibit symptoms similar to the flu including increasing irritability with the loss of appetite. There is no such thing as a “safe” level of lead exposure.

What Should You Do?

Children must be tested for lead blood levels to know for sure whether or not they may have a lead-related problem, especially if you believe that your child has had short or long term exposure in your home due to peeling paint from the walls, baseboards, door trim and window seals. The only scientifically recognized treatment which is believed to reduce blood lead levels is “chelation therapy.” Chelation therapy for lead poisoning has been safely administered for more than 40 years and assists the body in eliminating lead pollution through urinary excretion. While intravenous chelation is well established, the agents, dosing, and indications can be controversial among certain health professionals.

Prevention is Key!

Without the doubt, the absolute best way to reduce the impact of lead exposure in children is to reduce the amount of lead that gets absorbed or retained by the child. Young children will absorb and retain up to 50% of the lead they orally ingest. The percentage of ingested lead may be reduced through proper nutrition to include but not limited to adequate levels of calcium, iron, vitamin B, vitamin C, and zinc. A child whose has not recently eaten may absorb more lead since food can assist some of the lead to pass through unabsorbed during the digestion process. Pregnant women must take extra precautions to minimize their exposure to lead, since lead may cross the placenta and adversely affect a developing fetus.

Keep the Old Paint from Peeling

Sometimes removing the layers of paint just to get to the old lead-polluted paint can be a dangerous proposition. This is especially true since it requires dangerous chemicals or multiple sanding to remove the top layers. Also, you may create more lead-polluted dust and expose yourself as well as other family members. The best strategy is to keep the paint fresh by sealing and painting immediately once peeling starts to occur.

Proper Cleaning is Paramount

If you have any reason to believe that there may be lead-polluted particles anywhere in your home, then you must clean it up safely. The only recommended method of removing lead particles is by using a true H.E.P.A. (High Efficient Particulate Air) vacuum. Multiple direction passes of all suspect surfaces are required to make sure lead particles are removed. Also, an H.E.P.A. vacuum which has an actual bag is recommended to reduce lead exposure when cleaning the vacuum.