Test for lead poisoning to avoid devastating effects
by Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List
For years, Angie’s List has been championing lead safety awareness. Exposure can lead to adverse health effects for individuals of any age, though children ages 6 and younger are especially susceptible to poisoning, which can include permanent brain damage and death.
In 2007, we launched a nationwide lead awareness tour. In both 2007 and 2008, we conducted investigations exposing unsafe industry practices. In 2010, we called on the Environmental Protection Agency for tougher enforcement of contractors who aren’t trained and accredited in proper lead safety techniques.
Though our goal has always been to encourage lead safe practices and help families reduce their exposure to poisoning, the heavy metal unfortunately continues to remain a prevalent public health threat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 250,000 children between ages 1 and 5 have dangerous levels of lead in their blood, but they often don’t exhibit symptoms that can be directly connected to lead poisoning. In fact, some symptoms can be confused with behaviors that are often characteristic in young children, including hyperactivity, lack of focus and irritability.
Dr. John C. Ellis, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the medical director for Managed Health Services in Indianapolis, says the only way to tell if a child has lead poisoning is with a blood test. “When you find a kid with elevated levels, they already have [been poisoned],” Ellis says. “Ideally, the doctor should be bringing questions up and screening kids at 1 and 2 years.”
The most common types of exposure come from lead paint dust in homes or child care centers built before 1978; contact with someone who works in a lead-related industry, such as a painter or contractor; soil contaminated with lead gasoline residue; and imported jewelry, toys and even some candies.
If you have concerns about lead exposure, push your child’s doctor to do an evaluation. One of CEO Bill Oesterle’s children was poisoned during a home renovation project. Oesterle had to insist that a pediatrician administer a blood test before his daughter got the treatment needed that’s allowed her to overcome the poisoning.
“If we hadn’t persisted, we might never have fully understood why she exhibited the symptoms she did or gotten her the treatment she needed,” says Oesterle, who talks about the issue freely to help educate other parents.
If your child tests positive, identify the source of the lead and remove it as soon as possible. If you live in a home built before 1978, purchase a lead test kit from your local hardware store or hire a professional who can properly test and remove it.
Your doctor should also discuss treatment options. In severe cases, your child could undergo chelation therapy, which involves taking medication to extract lead from the body. If you’re not comfortable with your doctor’s approach, ask to be referred to a specialist in toxicology or environmental and occupational medicine, or seek a second opinion.