Believe it or not, lead is still a major cause of developmental disability in young kids. Lead, a heavy metal that was once commonly found in gasoline and house paint, can easily be ingested by children, who have an innate tendency to explore everything mouth first. That’s why kids who live in older homes — defined as pre-1978 — are considered at higher risk for lead poisoning. Before 1978, many homes contained lead-based paint, and it’s not at all uncommon for kids to chew on painted windowsills, door jambs, you name it. Playing in the dirt can expose kids to lead too. Dirt near homes may still contain remnants of old, lead-based paint; so can dirt near roads and highways. Lead might even be in your drinking water, as many old homes still have some lead pipes.
Lead screening is designed to assess your child’s lead exposure so that you can take steps to ensure your child’s health and well-being. There’s no “okay” level of lead in the body, but if your child shows some lead in his blood, your healthcare provider will a) give you a list of concrete steps you can take to reduce your child’s lead exposure and b) carefully track your child’s lead levels. If they go down, great. If not, additional intervention may be necessary.
Many physicians begin lead screening at six months of age; virtually all check babies’ lead levels at the one year appointment. A technician will take a small sample of your child’s blood and analyze it for the presence of lead. Results aren’t immediate, and your doctor will probably contact you in a few days to let you know the results. If your child’s lead level is high — say, above 10 — your doctor will probably refer you to the Department of Public Health, who can help you assess your environment for lead and make appropriate modifications.
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