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What To Do About Childhood Lead Poisoning

If you are worried that you or your child is at risk for lead poisoning, here is some guidance taken from an article Lydia wrote for Redbook (read entire article here):


Who should get tested:

You should test your child if any of the following is true:

Your child lives in or regularly visits a house built before 1978, especially if it is being renovated or has been renovated in the past six months.

Your child attends day care or school in a building built before 1978.

Your child has unexplained headaches, stomachaches, or irritability or is missing developmental milestones or losing skills he previously acquired.

You or your spouse works in an industry in which there is direct contact with lead, such as contracting or printing. (You could be bringing lead dust home on your hands or clothes.)

How to do it: Ask your pediatrician to give your child a finger-stick lead test. (If an elevated level is found, the doctor will confirm the result by testing blood drawn from a vein.) If your child is at risk, have him or her tested at ages 1 and 2 at least.

You should test yourself if you’re pregnant or are planning to become pregnant.

How to do it: Ask your doctor to check your blood-lead level.

You should test your house if your house was built before 1978, especially if the paint is peeling or chipping or if you are about to renovate or have recently renovated.

How to do it: Contact your state lead-poisoning program or go to to find a certified inspector in your area; the inspector can tell you whether your paint is leaded and whether it’s a hazard. (Inexpensive home-test kits can tell you if lead dust is present, but you need a professional to determine how severe the hazard is.) Your local health department or the Environmental Protection Agency can tell you how to test water and soil.


What to Do if there’s lead:

. . . in your child’s bloodstream:

Have your home checked by a certified lead inspector to identify the exact source of the lead.

Feed children diets high in calcium and iron, both of which help reduce the amount of lead their bodies absorb.

Wash children’s hands, faces, and toys often to remove lead dust or soil. Keep in mind that the dust particles are microscopic, so a toy that looks clean still may contain traces of lead.

Discuss treatment options with your pediatrician.

. . .in your home:

Mop or sponge floors, window frames, windowsills, baseboards, and other surfaces weekly. Traditional vacuuming actually stirs up dust, so if possible use a HEPAvac (High Efficiency Particulate Air Filtered Vacuum) instead. (You may be able to borrow or rent one from your local health department.)

As a temporary fix, you can put wallpaper or paneling over problem walls. Contact paper can be an effective temporary barrier on windowsills and other surfaces.

A full-scale lead abatement is the only permanent solution. Your state lead-poisoning program should be able to refer you to a certified lead-abatement contractor; such contractors are trained in proper lead-safety practices. Abatement materials include removing lead-based paint and enclosing it in special materials, such as lead-encapsulating paint (painting over lead paint with regular paint isn’t sufficient).

Children and pregnant women should move out of the house while renovations are done or abatement is being carried out, but if that’s not possible, make sure that rooms where the work is being done are completely sealed off from the rest of the house.

. . . in your pipes:

Use only cold water for drinking and cooking. (Hot water leaches lead from plumbing.)

If a faucet hasn’t been used for six hours or more, run the tap until the water is as cold as it gets (usually 30 seconds to a minute). This helps you avoid using water that has been sitting in a leaded pipe.

Use a water filter that has been certified by NSF International as effectively removing lead (look for the seal on the package).


For more information:

National Lead Information Center (800-424-LEAD,

EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791)

Alliance for Healthy Housing

The National Center for Healthy Housing ( to learn about lead-safe work practices.