Lead is a dangerous toxin that can cause serious developmental challenges if undetected in a child’s environment. Lead is a metal that is found in water, paint, air, dust, and many household products. There has been a renewed public interest in lead toxicity following the heartbreaking stories from Flint, Michigan and other communities where elevated lead levels in the drinking water went undetected.
In this article, I will review how to protect your child from lead toxicity in New York City. Over the past half century, NYC has taken great strides to minimize the risk for lead exposure. First, NYC’s water supply comes from upstate New York and it is virtually lead-free. Second, regulations dating back to 1987 prohibit the use of plumbing containing lead. Third, NYC has implemented an aggressive monitoring system to check for any signs of lead in the water supply. Finally, NYC outlawed the use of lead-based paint in 1978.
Despite all of the public health measures, there are still a number of children diagnosed with lead toxicity each year. The primary source remains peeled paint from old buildings, dust from construction sites involving old buildings, and the use of imported household items that might not meet the strict US standards. In our practice, we ask parents of patients under six years the following abridged version of the New York State lead assessment:
- Does your child live in or regularly visit a house/building built before 1978 with peeling or chipping paint, or with recent or ongoing renovation or remodeling? This could include a daycare center, preschool, and the home of a babysitter or a relative.
- Has your family/child ever lived outside the United States or recently arrived from a foreign country?
- Does your child frequently put things in his/her mouth such as toys, jewelry, or keys and does your child eat non-food items (pica)?
- Does your child frequently come in contact with an adult whose job or hobby involves exposure to lead? Jobs include house painting, plumbing, renovation, construction, auto repair, welding, electronics repair, jewelry or pottery making. Hobby examples are making stained glass or pottery, fishing, making or shooting firearms and collecting lead or pewter figurines.
- Does your family use products from other countries such as health remedies, spices, or food, or store or serve food in leaded crystal, pottery or pewter?
If you answered yes to any of these, you should contact your pediatrician and he or she will check your child’s blood for lead exposure. In addition, pediatricians are legally required to check blood lead levels in all patients regardless of risk factors. In our practice, we check the blood lead level at the nine-month and two-year wellness visit.
If your pediatrician identifies a serum level >= to 5 mcg/dl, he or she will alert the Department of Health and a city official will contact you. Their first task will be to identify the source of lead and remove it from your child’s environment. If the level is significantly higher, there are steps that can be taken to bring the lead level down quickly.
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