Federal health and safety officials are urging parents to make sure older homes are inspected for lead paint, indicating an estimated 3.6 million people nationwide, especially children, are at risk of permanent injuries as a result of lead exposure in the home.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched their annual Lead Poisoning Prevention Week campaign, designed to raise awareness about the risks in many homes nationwide and to importance of testing, as part of an effort to prevent lifelong injuries resulting from lead paint exposure.
In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and supporting public and private partners, the CDC will promote the national lead poisoning awareness campaign between October 25 and October 31, warning there is no safe blood lead level in children, and the exposure at young ages can have lifelong adverse health effects.
Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children. More than half a million children in the U.S, have lead blood levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the “level of concern” reference set by the CDC. Lead poisoning can result in nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, cognitive impairment, coma and even death for young children.
One of the more common causes of lead exposure in the United States is lead paint, which was banned in 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage and developmental problems, particularly in children. However, a number of older homes still contain the toxic paint on the walls, and if it flakes or peals off, young children could ingest the paint chips or breathe dust that comes from the paint, resulting in lead poisoning.
However, lead exposure can also be caused by surrounding environments. Officials indicated those living near industrial facilities that work with lead are naturally at an increased risk. Officials also recommend parents keep any antique cookware and leaded crystal glassware out of reach and away from children.
Prior research by the CDC estimates 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.
The majority of those children are poor and live in older urban areas, mainly in the inner city. Most are minorities, meaning such exposures add to numerous problems already plaguing inner city black and Latino youths, such as poverty, high crime and poor schools.
The goal of the campaign is to eliminate childhood lead poisoning as a public health problem by strengthening blood lead testing, reporting, and surveillance, while linking exposed children to recommended services, said Patrick Breysse, PhD, CIH, Director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.
As part of the effort, officials from each agency and supporting partners will be encouraging healthcare providers to work with families to bring children up to date with testing to see if a child has been exposed to lead. Children covered by Medicaid will be eligible for free testing.
As states continue to develop plans for safe reopening following the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC encourages parents to take advantage of the available resources provided by the CDC and state programs, stressing there is no safe lead level in the blood for children and the adverse health consequences are irreversible.