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Ask an expert: Lead toxicity a concern for children

Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson is an environmental health scientist in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson is an environmental health scientist in Atlanta, Georgia  

October 27, 2000
Web posted at: 12:18 PM EDT (1618 GMT)

Question: Is lead toxicity still a problem for children?

Answer: Lead toxicity in children remains a public health concern. The amount of lead in our environment, however, has been reduced during the last few decades by a number of methods. One major advance was the marked reduction in the lead content of paint. Lead solder is no longer used to seal seams in the canned food industry. In the United States, leaded gasoline is no longer used.

These and other advances have greatly reduced the potential for lead exposure, but lead is still present in the environment. Many older homes and commercial buildings built before 1977 have leaded paint that is peeling, flaking and chipping. When these older buildings with lead paint are sanded or scraped, lead dust accumulates in the soil.

Children can be exposed to lead if they ingest paint chips or if they play in areas that have lead in the soil. Lead residue remains in the soil along roads that had heavy traffic flow when leaded gasoline was used in the United States.

Lead is most harmful to children younger than 6. Exposure can result in delays in development, behavior changes or speech impairments. Children who are suspected of being exposed to lead should have a blood test to check for lead levels. The current public health level of concern for children is a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter. Research on the effects of lead exposure, including prenatal exposure, continues.

Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service and is stationed at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta, Georgia. She is an environmental health scientist in the research implementation branch of the toxicology division.

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