One of the most leading questions I get nowadays is about lead and whether children can still get lead poisoning.  October is Lead Poisoning Prevention Month, so let me get the lead out and provide some information on this subject.

Lead poisoning is still a problem and affects currently affects a half million children in this country.  In 1996, the Vermont legislature passed Act 165, requiring all owners of rental housing and childcare facilities built before 1978 to perform lead clean-ups of their properties – but exposure to lead still occurs.  It can result in irreversible learning disabilities, decreased intelligence, abdominal pain and other health problems.  The key point is that lead poisoning is preventable.  If you want to reduce your child’s exposure, here are a few suggestions:

First, the Departments of Health in Vermont and New York recommend that all children get tested for lead by age 1 and again at age 2 – or even earlier if they live in an old house.  What each state calls “the level of concern” for lead exposure has recently been lowered, which means that 200,000 more children could soon be identified as being exposed to lead.  Public health officials are working with parents to take action sooner in a child’s life to prevent any additional lead exposure.

If you live in an older house, particularly one built before 1978, make sure your child does not chew on painted windowsills, cribs or playpens that may contain lead paint.  In fact, move the crib away from the windowsills where paint chips can fall.

Ordinary dust and dirt contain lead, so make sure your children wash their hands when they come inside from playing.

If you work in construction, demolition, or painting, don’t bring the worksite home with you.  It could increase your children’s exposure to lead.  Change your clothes before you go home or as soon as you are in the house.

If you’re worried that your water pipes contain lead, run the water for 30 to 60 seconds before drinking to clear the pipes.

If you would like to be more educated about lead poisoning, prevention, and what to do if your child’s lead level is elevated, contact the National Lead Information Hotline Center (800-424-LEAD) or the Departments of Health in Vermont (1-800-439-8550) or New York (518-473-4602) or call the state help lines: that’s 211 in Vermont and 311 in New York.  They can give you further information.

Hopefully tips like this will have “lead” you in the right direction when it comes to preventing a child’s exposure to lead poisoning.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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