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Graphic Lead poisoning is a common environmental health problem among children. Even low blood lead levels can be harmful to children and have been associated with decreased intelligence as a longterm complication. Most children with elevated lead levels have no symptoms until they reach extreme levels. The only way to tell they have lead poisoning is to test their blood.

Young children, especially those 18-24 months old, are at greatest risk for lead poisoning because they often put their hands in their mouths and thus are more likely to eat dust, paint, and soil contaminated with lead. Children also absorb lead more easily. Because of their growth, development, and increased metabolism (the process the body uses to change nutrients to energy), children are more sensitive to the harmful health effects of lead.

Children can be exposed to lead by:

  • Eating lead-based paint chips or dust or soil contaminated with lead-based paint or leaded gasoline. Most children get lead poisoning from breathing in lead-based paint dust or chewing on surfaces, such as windowsills or other surfaces close to the floor, that have been painted with lead-based paint. This usually happens in older homes, and especially those that are being or have recently been remodeled.
  • Drinking water that has moved through lead pipes.
  • Being exposed to lead dust carried by family workers who work with lead.
  • Eating food served on lead-glazed pottery or improperly fired ceramic ware.
  • Eating food taken from lead-soldered cans.
  • Taking some traditional medicines that contain lead, such as greta or azarcon.
  • Being exposed to lead through contamination of the environment by adult hobbies, such as making stained glass or pottery.

As a child care provider, you can help reduce children's risk of lead poisoning by:

  • Washing children's hands frequently and before meals.
  • Feeding children diets rich in iron and calcium, which will reduce the amount of lead absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Preparing and storing food in containers that do not release lead, such as those made of glass, stainless steel, or plastic. Never store food in opened cans. Only use ceramic containers that have labels saying they are made with lead-free glazes .
  • Only using toys and arts and crafts materials that do not contain lead. Arts and crafts materials made after 1990 that are labeled "conforms to ASTM D-4236" and that have no health warnings are considered nontoxic.
  • Relocating during remodeling projects that may create lead-based-paint dust.
  • Having your facility evaluated for lead hazards if you believe it may be at risk. Older buildings with deteriorating paint carry a greater risk for lead hazards, as do buildings thought to have been a source of lead exposure for a child who has been diagnosed with lead poisoning. Lead paint concentrations were highest before 1950, but lead continued to be used in residential paint until 1978.
  • To get further information on testing for lead and on preventing lead poisoning, call your state or local health department, the National Lead Information Hotline, (800) LEAD-FYI, or the National Lead Information Clearinghouse, (800) 424-LEAD.
Note: This information is not intended to take the place of your state's or locality's child care regulations and laws. In every case, the laws and regulations of the city, county, and state in which the child care facility is located must be carefully followed even if they differ from these recommendations.

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