Be proactive about lead exposure for babies and children


By pH health care professionals

Parents have enough to worry about! Toxic metals shouldn’t be one of them. However,  whether we like it or not, lead is all around us -- in drinking water, lipsticks, older paints, foods, soil, air and dust. Although it’s a naturally occurring heavy metal found in small amounts in the Earth’s crust, it can be toxic to your health and even more toxic to your little ones.

Children, infants and fetuses are especially vulnerable to lead’s harmful effects. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says even low levels of lead that wouldn’t do much harm to an adult could do significant harm to a child or developing fetus. This is partly because children have higher breathing rates than adults, which means they breathe in a greater volume of air per pound, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) says. Also, being shorter in stature, children are more likely to breathe in lead-contaminated dust, soil and fumes close to the ground, the agency notes.

Furthermore, regarding lead and children, there is no “safe” level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

So what are the harmful effects parents should be aware of?

According to the EPA and CDC, even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to have effects such as:

  • Lower IQ

  • Impaired ability to pay attention

  • Lower academic achievement

  • Learning disabilities

  • Shorter stature and slowed growth

  • Hearing problems

  • Anemia

  • Hyperactivity and behavioral issues

  • Memory problems

The World Health Organization (WHO) also points out increased antisocial behavior, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. WHO also notes that the neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.

You probably have heard about the water crisis in Flint. In Flint, Michigan, there is so much lead in children’s blood, a state of emergency has been declared. This is because Flint switched from using the Detroit water system to the Flint River in 2014 (read the backstory here). Since then, it seems the lead levels are improving, but much damage has been done to the residents of Flint.

So where does lead exposure typically occur?

Children may be exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil, air, food and drinking water, the EPA says.  

The EPA estimates drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Babies who consume mostly mixed formula may get 40-60 percent of their lead exposure from drinking water.

Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder, and pre-1978 housing facilities (especially those in inner cities or built before 1950) may have lead-based paint.

Children may also first be exposed to lead in the womb. Lead accumulates in our bodies over time and is stored in the bones with calcium, the EPA says. So when a woman is pregnant and calcium is released from her bones to help form the growing baby’s bones, lead is also released (especially if she doesn’t get enough dietary calcium).

Test lead blood levels!

A pregnant woman’s lead exposure may also affect the baby, as lead can cross the placental barrier (Ladies, read about lead in lipsticks here!). Expecting moms may want to consider testing their drinking water lead levels, and look into DIY lead testing kits for their homes if the home is older than 1978. Risks associated with an elevated lead level in an expectant mother’s blood may include reduced growth, low birth weight, premature birth, miscarriage or stillbirth.

If you want to be proactive, ask your doctor about screenings to check your child’s blood lead levels. If the level of lead in a child's blood is at or above the CDC action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter, it may be due to lead exposures from a combination of sources. You may need to work with qualified professionals to test your home and find out where the lead is coming from.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.


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