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Home Cleaning Programs Don't Reduce Child Lead Levels

Armen Hareyan's picture

Programs that promote household cleaning, home repairs and parental awareness of lead hazards are not effective at protecting children from exposure to this poison, according to a new review of studies.

The review looked at interventions that attempted to reduce lead exposure for children and found that "none that have been tried so far have been proven to be effective," said lead author Dr. Berlinda Yeoh, a pediatrician at Sydney Children's Hospital in New South Wales, Australia.

Lead poisoning is an important health problem in children, Yeoh said. Children regularly exposed to lead can experience lower intelligence test scores, behavior and growth problems, anemia, kidney damage and other physical, cognitive and behavioral impairments.

The most common cause of lead poisoning in children is ingestion of dust from old lead paint.

The sale of lead paint was banned in 1978 in the United States, but today's children could ingest dust or paint chips from peeling walls, broken plaster or old painted window sills or railings.

The reviewers examined 12 U.S. studies, which included 2,239 children 6 years and younger and their parents or caregivers.

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Reviewers analyzed two types of interventions for parents: educational interventions, which emphasized teaching lead poisoning awareness and strategies for preventing dust and lead exposure at home; and environmental interventions, which involved making repairs, cleaning and painting to reduce home lead exposure.

The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

The reviewers found that educational programs for parents had no effect on children's blood lead levels, which was also the case for environmental programs.

The reviewers also analyzed the effect of soil abatement, an environmental program that involves removing and replacing lead-contaminated soil around the home. Two studies did show that soil abatement practices significantly reduced children's blood lead levels, but there were not enough data to include in the final analysis and insufficient evidence to recommend these practices as effective, the authors said in the review.

Even studies that combined both educational and environmental interventions failed to reduce children's blood lead levels.

So despite good intentions, why are educational and environmental interventions unsuccessful?

Yeoh said that children might have other sources of lead exposure at day care or relatives' homes, rendering home dust removal programs ineffective. She said it was possible that the interventions failed to remove all of the lead in the home or that lead dust within older homes quickly re-accumulated after cleaning.