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Get the lead out!


Americans haven't heard much about the problem of lead poisoning in children since the use of lead in paints was banned in this country in 1971, but a new study claims that we are now in the midst of a lead epidemic. The Environmental Defense Fund says that more than 3 million children under age six have dangerously elevated levels of lead in their blood that may lead to irreversible learning and behavioral disorders. A recently completed long-term study of children with what used to be called "low-level lead poisoning" reveals, 11 years later, a high-school dropout rate among these children that is six times the national average.

The sad truth is that no American child is safe from the problem. Young children still have access to lead in many forms, such as house paint, paint on toys and cribs, and drinking water; experts estimate that 16 percent of our children have toxic lead levels in their blood. Any house built more than 20 years ago is likely to have lead paint on window sills, handrails and other accessible surfaces that young children may chew upon, as they often do with crib rails, chairs, toys (including wooden blocks), and other objects coated with lead paint. Very old houses may still have lead water pipes that steadily leak small amounts of lead into drinking and cooking water. Many older cooking utensils also contain lead.

Identifying all the possible lead sources in the child's environment is obviously very difficult, particularly for families living in substandard housing, where the highest rate of lead poisoning occurs. Pediatricians, therefore, recommend that all children be tested for lead before they start school. The homes of those children testing positive for lead can then be examined for possible lead sources by trained public health personnel. The test is simple, requiring only three drops of blood that may be drawn by the family physician or the local health department.

Dealing with the problem of removing all lead sources from the home environment is an enormous undertaking, and a concerted effort of federal, state and local authorities is essential. Closer scrutiny of all toys, including imported ones, is an important step - last year a number of metal toys imported from the Far East were found to have paint with dangerously high lead content.
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Title Annotation:danger for children
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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