Information the Key to Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning

By Goldman, Lynn R. | Journal of Environmental Health, May 1997 | Go to article overview

Information the Key to Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning


Goldman, Lynn R., Journal of Environmental Health


Over the past generation, protecting Children from lead poisoning has been one of the great success stories of this nation's commitment to public health and environmental protection. Since the 1970's, federal and state efforts to address dangerous sources of lead have resulted in a 90 percent reduction in the average blood-lead levels in children. Much of this success is the result of the phaseout of leaded gasoline, the ban on lead in food cans, and the ban on lead-based paints in residences. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers have focused their efforts on the young, having long noted that such environmental pollutants as lead can harm the sensitive brains and nervous systems of growing children more severely than adults.

Despite recent successes in prevention of lead poisoning, improperly managed lead-based paint in older homes remains the greatest source of exposure for the nation's children. In fact, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services recently characterized lead poisoning as the "number one" environmental threat to the health of children in the United States. In 1992, a survey estimated that more than three million tons of lead in the form of lead-based paints still lurked in American dwellings built before 1980.

Studies since 1978 by the Department of Health and Human Services identified some previously unrecognized dangers of lead poisoning. Blood-lead levels once considered safe have been called into question. Over the period 1978 to 1991, the then Centers for Disease Control lowered the blood-lead level of concern from 60 to 10 micrograms per deciliter (a millionth of a gram in a tenth of a liter). But even low blood-lead levels have been associated with learning disabilities, growth impairment, hearing and visual impairment, and other damage to the brain and nervous system.

Today, more than 1.7 million American children under age six have blood-lead levels that exceed 10 micrograms per deciliter. Most of those children are being poisoned by deteriorating lead-based paint and the contaminated soil and dust it generates. Lead from exterior house paint can flake off or leach into the soil around the outside of the house. Dust created during normal paint wear (especially around windows and doors) can create a hard-to-see film on household surfaces. Cleaning and renovation can increase the threat of lead-based paint exposure by dispersing fine lead dust into the air. If lead paint is managed improperly, both adults and children can inhale the fine dust or ingest dangerous amounts of paint dust via hands and food. Children under age six are particularly susceptible. But much of the lead in homes can be handled and maintained safely by using simple, low-cost, common-sense procedures.

Recognizing the need for more public education, the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly issued a regulation in March 1996 providing for disclosure of possible hazards in lead-based paint at the time when homes are sold or rented. The rule implements section 1018 of the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, designed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust and soil.

This rule represents the federal Government's first step under the law of 1992 to build an infrastructure to ensure the elimination of lead-based paint hazards in housing. Other steps, to be implemented later, include oversight of state and local programs for training and certification of contractors who perform lead inspection and abatement services, and working with lending and insurance institutions to make lead-safe housing available. EPA will cooperate with other federal, state and local government agencies, as well as private organizations in carrying out these additional steps to prevent lead poisoning. …

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Information the Key to Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning
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