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Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth's crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals, causing health effects.
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Lead poisoning is a disease that can cause serious health problems, such as brain and kidney damage, coma, and even death. You should be concerned if your child tests at even a low level; any lead level in the blood is a concern. Even small blood lead levels can lead to learning problems and hyperactivity.
Lead can be found in many products and locations. Some you might never have thought of, including some imported candies, toys, and traditional medicines. The most common cause of lead poisoning is in homes built before 1978 (when lead-based paints were banned), probably containing lead-based paint. When the paint peels and cracks, it makes lead dust. Children can be poisoned when they swallow or breathe in lead dust. However, some non-paint sources, though less common, can cause severe cases of lead poisoning and can be dangerous if not managed properly.
Lead can be found throughout a child's environment.
Many children with lead poisoning have no symptoms. But even low-level lead exposure can lead to learning and behavior problems, like trouble paying attention. Symptoms of lead poisoning include:
Note, very high lead levels can cause confusion, seizures, coma, and even death.
Lead is toxic to everyone, but children younger than six years are at the most significant risk because their growing bodies absorb more information than adults do. Children's brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects with lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that have lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil, or from playing with toys with lead-based paint.
Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that have lead. They may also breathe lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating. During renovation or repair work, it disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure, as can specific folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman's exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.
Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead.
Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma, and even death.
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones and calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother's bones and calcium and can pass from the mother exposing the fetus or the breastfeeding infant to lead. This can result in severe effects to the developing fetus and infant, including:
Check out the websites below for more about lead's effects on pregnancy and lactating women:
Effects of Workplace Hazards on Female Reproductive Health, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Guidelines for the Identification and Management of Lead Exposure in Pregnant and lactating Women, National Center for Environmental Health. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/publications/leadandpregnancy2010.pdf
Lead is also harmful to other adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:
If you are concerned that your child might be at risk for lead poisoning, talk with your doctor, your child's pediatrician, or contact the Shelby County Health Department Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) at 901-222-9582 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on screening and testing for lead poisoning.
(NOTE: Here is a video demonstrating the testing procedure: https://youtu.be/O0JSKqzfc9k.)
Free lead testing is available at all Shelby County Health Department clinics between 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The list of Shelby County public health clinics and their addresses is below:
Cawthon Public Health Clinic
1000 Haynes, 38114
Collierville Public Health Clinic
(Tues. & Thurs. only)
167 Washington St., 38017
Hickory Hill Public Health Clinic
6590 Kirby Center Cove, 38118
814 Jefferson, Rm. 216, 38105
Millington Public Health Clinic
8225 Highway 51 North, 38053
Shelby Crossing Public Health Clinic
6170 Macon Road, 38133
Southland Mall Public Health Clinic
1287 Southland Mall, 38116
No appointment or proof of health insurance is required, but a parent or legal guardian must accompany the child.
For determining whether lead-based paint is present in pre-1978 homes and buildings, or for assistance with lead poisoning prevention, including information on grants to remove lead-based paint hazards from lead in paint, dust, or soil, please get in contact with the Shelby County Department of Housing at 901-222-7600 and City of Memphis Housing and Community Development at 901-636-LEAD (5323) for information on conducting a risk assessment to determine if there are lead hazards. CALL TODAY TO SEE IF YOU QUALIFY FOR A LEAD-BASED PAINT HOME INSPECTION AT NO COST TO YOU (click attachment Lead-Safe Program Flyer.pdf!!)
Lead poisoning is preventable. The goal is to prevent lead exposure to children before they are harmed. There are many ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead. Lead hazards in a child's environment must be identified, controlled, or removed safely.
For healthy eating tips, please click the link from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Fight Lead Poisoning with a Healthy Diet: Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips for Families https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-01/documents/fight_lead_poisoning_with_a_healthy_diet_2019.pdf