Where Lead is Hiding, and How to Protect Your Child from It

May 27, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Alexis Oram, M.D., MBA contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.

In 2020, 20 percent fewer children in New Jersey were screened for lead exposure during pediatric appointments than during the previous year. The drop in testing took place during a year when many parents chose to cancel or postpone well visits, to keep their children out of health care settings during the COVID-19 pandemic. But not knowing your child’s lead-exposure status may put them at risk for negative health effects.

Exposure to lead can cause irreversible neurological damage in children, which is why all children in New Jersey should be tested at ages 1 and 2. (Every child should be screened at least once by their 6th birthday, if they haven’t already been tested earlier.)

In 2019, about 179,000 children in New Jersey were screened for lead exposure at well visits, and 2.2 percent were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. By comparison, only about 144,000 New Jersey children were screened in 2020, and 2.8 percent had elevated blood-lead levels. Health experts saw similar drops in testing nationwide during the pandemic.

Common sources of lead

Homes that were built before 1978 may have lead paint on the walls (even if painted over). Children may be exposed to the paint itself or dust particles from chipped paint around window sills or door frames. Kids may also be exposed to lead:

  • during home renovations, if covered-up lead paint is exposed
  • through drinking water, if your home’s plumbing contains lead pipes
  • if they receive toys, jewelry, herbal supplements or candy imported from certain countries
  • by spending time around ceramic pottery containing a lead glaze
  • in soil, which may contain lead

During the pandemic, many kids have been spending more time at home than usual. If your home’s environment contains lead, your child may have had greater exposure to this metal throughout the past year.

Ways to protect your child from lead exposure

You can take different steps to lower your child’s risk of lead exposure. To protect your child:

  • Reschedule missed well visits. Bring your child to the pediatrician to make up any appointments that you may have skipped or postponed during the pandemic, so that you can learn whether lead exposure is a problem.
  • Run the tap before drinking. If your home is more than 50 years old, it may contain lead within the pipes. When water sits in the pipes for long periods, it becomes exposed to the lead. To avoid serving exposed water to your child, run the cold water for 15 to 30 seconds before putting a drinking glass under the nozzle.
  • Don’t serve hot water. Lead is likely to be more concentrated in hot water, so you shouldn’t give your child water to drink from the hot-water tap.
  • Hire a lead evaluation contractor for home renovations. If you’re planning to have work done within your home which may disrupt paint on the walls and your home was built before 1978, use a contractor who can assess the situation and work without exposing your family to lead.
  • Keep soil out of reach. Consider taking off the shoes that you wear outdoors when you step inside, if your kids play on the floor within your home. Discourage your kids from playing directly in the dirt when they’re outside. And always have children wash their hands before eating.

Next Steps & Resources:

Sources:

New Jersey Dept. of Health – Childhood Lead

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.