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Dangers of Lead Still Linger

by Dixie Farley

While a child's chronic exposure to relatively low lead levels may result in learning or behavioral problems, Wykoff says that "higher levels of exposure can be associated with anemia and changes in kidney function, as well as significant changes in the nervous system that may, at extreme exposures, include seizures, coma and death."

While a child's chronic exposure to relatively low lead levels may result in learning or behavioral problems, Wykoff says that "higher levels of exposure can be associated with anemia and changes in kidney function, as well as significant changes in the nervous system that may, at extreme exposures, include seizures, coma and death."

In adults, lead poisoning can contribute to high blood pressure and damage to the reproductive organs. Severe lead poisoning can cause subtle loss of recently acquired skills, listlessness, bizarre behavior, incoordination, vomiting, altered consciousness, and--as with children--seizures, coma and death. Poisoning without severe brain effects can cause lethargy, appetite loss, sporadic vomiting, abdominal pain, and constipation. By the time symptoms appear, damage is often already irreversible.

"The most important thing for families to do," says Baltimore's Davoli, "is to learn what steps they can take to prevent lead poisoning. We don't want to get to treatment. And they should take their children to the doctor regularly for checkups and, if the children are at risk, get blood lead tests done."

Critical to prevention is focusing on the important lead sources. FDA's Rosenthal says, "Dealing with sources of lead means recognizing them in your family's environment, knowing which ones contribute significant exposures, and eliminating or avoiding those exposures."

Top Contaminator: Lead Paint

America's No. 1 source of lead exposure in children is deteriorating lead paint in older housing. Because young children frequently put their thumbs and fingers and objects they handle in their mouths, they are easily poisoned from chronic ingestion of lead paint chips and house dust or soil that may have lead particles in it.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned house paint having more than 0.06 percent lead in 1978. But housing built before then, particularly before 1950, may contain lead paint. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development require owners of pre-1978 housing to give prospective buyers or renters federally approved information on the risk. Buyers must have 10 days to inspect for lead-based paint before being obligated by a contract.

Improper housing renovation increases exposure. The riskiest practices are sanding, scraping or removing lead paint with a heat gun, which taint the air with lead paint dust. CPSC warns: There is no completely safe method for do-it-yourself removal of lead paint. Only experts should remove lead paint.

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