Over the past few decades, the issue of lead paint poisoning generally has been associated with low-income, multi-ethnic urban families; however, recent data indicate that this problem has migrated to middle and upper classes, and now is characterized as a “silent epidemic“. The focus on the troubling health problems associated with lead poisoning has prompted new efforts to alert parents of the mechanisms and dangers of lead exposure and actions needed to prevent lead exposure in children, as well a to detect and treat children who have been affected.
A major project in the works to provide information on lead paint poisoning currently is being undertaken by Tamara Rubin, a film director, whose upcoming film documentary, MisLEAD, “aims to dispel a long-standing misconception that lead poisoning is confined to low-income communities and to children who eat paint chips”. Ms Rubin, who also is the executive director of the nonprofit, Lead Safe America Foundation, notes the importance of educating all parents, particularly those in the middle and upper classes, on the realities of lead poisoning and dispelling the perceived stigma and shame often connected to lead paint exposure. This, in turn, will encourage parents to discuss this issue with their pediatricians and to insist on tests for their children to rule out lead paint exposure.
This project is very personal for Ms Rubin as she had to confront lead paint exposure in her family following a home renovation project that included the removal of old paint. Two of her children became violently ill, and it took their pediatrician a long time to entertain the thought of lead paint poisoning in the differential diagnoses. Additionally, due to the lack of awareness of lead poisoning, Ms Rubin never considered the possibility of lead paint poisoning in her children or the need to get them tested.
Ms Rubin’s experience is not unusual in that many older homes in middle class neighborhoods containing old lead paint in walls, pipes, etc., are now occupied by wealthier Americans. This paint, which was used many years ago because of its durability, is now deteriorating and creating “a new wave of lead exposure that wasn’t happening 10,20, 30 years ago”. Exposure to lead paint typically occurs during renovation and rehabilitation processes or during rebuilding projects that disturb the soil, which often contains accumulated leaded gasoline from automobile exhaust. Another noted source of lead exposure is realized from many products that we use everyday, including, but not limited to, “pipes, crystals, shoes, jewelry and car keys“.
Studies show that lead poisoning usually affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls decision-making and compulsive behavior. Over the years, lead paint poisoning has been associated with higher crime rates, lower test scores by students, ADHD, and even autism. These health problems occur in children from all economic sectors. Simply stated, lead paint poisoning does not discriminate. Currently, we see families who have to rely on pharmacological “treatment” for their children’s symptoms, with the realization that these products mask symptoms, rather than cure the problems and often cause adverse side effects.
Detection of lead levels in the blood is done through blood testing. Results showing lead levels above 5-micrograms-per deciliter are indicative of lead poisoning in a child. It is imperative that all parents request that their children be tested for lead poisoning, regardless of their economic status as neurotoxic conditions arising from lead poisoning can be devastating to children’s physical and emotional health and development. The first line treatment for lead poisoning is avoidance of the exposure, which often is enough to reduce the lead levels in the blood. In the home, this can be accomplished with lead abatement projects. With detection of lead poisoning, doctors are able to treat children with a number of therapies, including chelation therapy, which involves administering medications that binds with the lead so that it is excreted in the urine.
A great place to start to get information on the important issue of lead paint poisoning is MisLEAD.com. Next, consider a discussion with your child’s pediatrician for guidance on this issue. Please remember that the protection of our children from environmental toxins is tantamount to our effort to live green, be green.
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