Keep Children Away From Lead Exposure, Poisoning

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In response to a string of recent recalls of lead-tainted toys worldwide, the Pennsylvania Department of Health offered parents tips to reduce their child's risk of getting lead poisoning.

"Children continue to be exposed to harmful levels of lead," Dr. Calvin B. Johnson said. "Last year, more than 100,000 Pennsylvania children were screened for lead poisoning and more than 3,600 of them had confirmed high lead levels in their blood."

Lead poisoning affects people of all ages, but it most severely affects young children under the age of six who are still developing physically and mentally. Over time, lead poisoning can impair learning and physical development, cause blindness, affect speech and hearing, weaken muscles, cause high blood pressure and anemia, trigger convulsions, cause mental retardation and lead to paralysis, kidney failure, coma and death.

Lead exposure also can be especially harmful to pregnant women and women of child-bearing age. Lead can be stored in a woman's body and, if she becomes pregnant, may be carried to her unborn child, causing miscarriage, premature birth, birth defects or developmental problems.

Lead poisoning can be hard to detect since there are usually no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are often confused with other illnesses. Symptoms may include stomach aches, cramps and convulsions, headaches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, irritability, vision problems, loss of appetite and sleeplessness.

The primary source of lead exposure is deteriorated or peeling lead-based paint and lead dust in older homes. Lead paint can be found on kitchen and bathroom walls and on wood surfaces, such as doors, windows, stairway banisters, trim moldings and porches. Windowsills can be especially dangerous because young children often put their mouths on them.

Other sources of lead poisoning include soil, water and children's toys, as seen in the recent toy recall. Children tend to put their hands, or other objects like toys, into their mouths, increasing the risk of lead exposure.

Dr. Johnson said families can reduce their risk of lead exposure by following these safety precautions:

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-- Wash children's hands often;

-- Test homes built before 1978 for lead-based paint;

-- Keep children away from peeling paint that may contain lead;

-- Wash hard surfaces, like floors and windowsills, weekly;

-- Clean children's toys and pacifiers frequently;

-- Do not dry-scrape, heat or burn paint;

-- People who work around lead should remove their work clothes before they interact with children; and

-- Test children for lead poisoning when they are 1 and 2 years of age. Children not tested at 1 and 2 years of age should be tested between ages 3 and 6.

Lead hazards in the home can be temporarily reduced by immediately removing recalled toys from the home, repairing damaged paint surfaces and planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels.

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