How can I tell if my children have lead poisoning?

Q: How can I tell if my children have lead poisoning?

A: The only way to know for certain is to have your children tested for lead poisoning. A simple blood test can determine if the levels of lead in your children?s are too high. You can ask your doctor or local public health department about blood tests for lead, and whether screening tests are warranted in your case.

Even though we?ve been working to ?get the lead out? for more than two decades, the U.S. government says about 9 percent of American children have too much lead in their blood.

Lead is harmful in adults, but it?s particularly dangerous in children. At high enough levels, it can cause learning disabilities, kidney disease, mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, anemia, growth problems and even seizures. In the most severe cases, lead poisoning can be fatal.590003.TIF

Despite the array of problems that may develop from lead, there aren?t always obvious symptoms. Acute poisoning may cause vomiting and other obvious symptoms. But at less extreme levels, there may be no apparent symptoms.

We?ve all heard about the problems in children who eat paint chips in old buildings. But for today?s children, most of the lead exposure is invisible.

Lead may come from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Dust from old lead-based paint inside and outside the house, as well as in some older window frames that have been painted on the inside. As the windows open and shut, they may send lead dust into the room.
  • Remodeling of older homes.
  • Contaminated soil.
  • Ceramic dishes and cups made with lead. Ceramic plates bought in the United States are safe, but don?t eat from ceramics that you buy elsewhere, unless you?re aware of that country?s lead-safety standards.
  • Drinking water that contains lead, usually from old lead pipes.

In general, if you live in a home built before 1978, the chances of lead in your home environment are higher than in newer buildings. In 1978, the government banned lead in paint. The risk also applies to other buildings where children spend a considerable amount of time, such as relatives? homes or day care facilities.