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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently made a change to what is considered a harmful level of lead.
Experts now say children can have problems from lead exposure at a much lower level. In fact, that level is half of what officials previously considered harmful. Previously, lead poisoning was defined as 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, but that is now 5 micrograms.
At the same time, Congress cut funding for lead-poisoning prevention this year. Lawmakers allocated $2 million for prevention this year, compared to $29 million the year before.
Medical toxicologist Dr. Jennifer Lowry says it also means that it's now up to parents and pediatricians to become more pro-active.
"The CDC recommends that lead testing occur at the age of one year and at two years and actually annually up until the age of six years."
Dr. Lowry says parents need to get rid of old paint chips in houses built before 1978, and she says dusting the floors and toys in such houses is important. She adds that houses with old paint on the outside can make the nearby soil hazardous as play areas or for planting vegetables.
"If there's peeling paint chips out in the soil from the home, it gets into the soil and the lead can get there. Usually, it concentrates around like the first feet around the home."
Dr. Lowry suggests that doctors go to the CDC website and make themselves aware of the new guidelines. She also recommends that parents talk to their pediatricians about testing. New studies have found attention problems and reduced IQ in kids who are within the new exposure guidelines. Sources of lead include toys, children's jewelry, paint chips from old houses, and sometimes even the soil around houses.
Some soil has also been contaminated from the old leaded gasoline. This can happen with houses near highways or around old factory sites. And doctors in Boston just last month discovered lead poisoning in a child that came from a folk remedy for the eyes. The parents had brought it from Nigeria.
Dr. Lowry says parents can't just call up the health department and ask them to test their soil or their house. The children need to be tested first.
"They cannot come out to the home and assess your home for lead hazards unless there is a child that has an elevated blood lead level."
The CDC says that all houses built before 1978 probably contain some lead. When the paint deteriorates and gets into the dust it causes problems. It says that more than 20 million houses have elevated levels of lead contamination in house dust.
Dr. Lowry says doctors and parents need to be more diligent about testing.
You can learn more about lead exposure and poisoning from the CDC by clicking here.