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How to Protect Children from Lead Poisoning

May 17 2022

Lead poisoning can be caused by exposure to lead in any number of sources, including chipping paint from a historic home, contaminated soil or water, a vintage doll house or even an imported faux Christmas tree. Unfortunately, lead poisoning can also be very difficult to detect because its symptoms can mimic many common illnesses, that is if symptoms present at all.

Lead poisoning is especially harmful to children due to their size and development.

A child’s exposure to any amount of lead can damage their nervous system or kidneys and cause developmental delays or learning disabilities like ADHD. Since lead poisoning can permanently impact a child’s health, it’s important to have them tested if they are at high risk for exposure.

“Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to their lifelong good health, especially for those that live in high-risk zip codes or homes built prior to 1978 since lead was used in paint during this era,” Mary Ann Turschak, LPN, lead poison prevention program coordinator at Mercy Health – Youngstown, shares. “Regular testing for children who are 6 years old or younger is vital if they are at risk for exposure. It’s even more critical for newborns to 3-year-olds.”

Pregnant women and their unborn children could also be at risk if exposed to lead during pregnancy. This could result in a higher-than-normal chance of having a baby born too soon or having a miscarriage, according to the Ohio Department of Health Bureau of Child and Family Health Services.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, childhood lead testing has decreased, making testing more important now than ever.

“Throughout the pandemic, we saw precautionary testing decline due to the surges of COVID-19,” Mary Ann explains. “As families remained isolated or in quarantine, parents were less likely to bring their children in for testing, making it harder to identify children who have potential lead exposures and limiting our ability to help parents prevent exposures. In addition, since families were spending more time at home during the pandemic, children could have experienced increased exposure.”

In Youngstown, Mercy Health has been awarded two grants to bolster lead testing. The two grants awarded by the Mercy Health Foundation and Mahoning County Healthy Homes help Mary Ann and her team to test children across the Mahoning Valley who are ages 1 to 5. This not only helps families who have lead exposures, but also raises awareness about lead poisoning and promotes education as well as prevention strategies.

“The Mahoning County Healthy Homes grant allows lead testing for homeowners or landlords. The results are reported back to the county. If high levels of lead are detected, the county and other groups can assist with any needed repairs. The Mercy Health Foundation grant largely focuses on efforts in Columbiana and parts of Trumbull County, where our team can go to fairs, schools and community events to test children,” Mary Ann explains.  

In addition to testing your child, there are several steps families can take to limit lead exposure.

First, if you’re remodeling an older home, you should hire a licensed lead contractor to ensure materials are handled appropriately. If you have a job that exposes you to lead or lead dust, you should change clothes before coming home and wash your clothes separately. You should also wash and check for recalls on hand-me-down toys. If your home has imported products, such as pottery, you should check the label to see if it contains lead.

One thing for parents to also keep in mind is that if one child in the home has lead poisoning or exposure, it is likely siblings do as well.

Visit the CDC’s website to learn more about preventing lead poisoning.

Also, learn about the health care services we offer at Mercy Health.

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