Baby looking out of a home window.

Lead poisoning is a very real public health crisis in communities across the country. In Lancaster County, more than 13 percent of children tested have blood lead levels above the national average. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.

Protecting our children from exposure to lead is important to their lifelong good health. And believe it or not, prevention starts during pregnancy. Learn the facts about lead poisoning and why it’s so important to get your child tested.

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead is a neurotoxin. When it builds up in the body over a period of months or years, lead poisoning occurs. Children under age 6 are most at risk. Exposure to lead puts infants, children, and unborn babies at increased risk of brain and neurologic damage.

What are the Effects of Lead Poisoning?

Study after study validates the detrimental and long-term effects of lead. Children with even slightly elevated blood lead levels have shown:

  • As much as a 15 percent deficit in reading and math scores on standardized tests.
  • A higher degree of reading difficulties, more school failures, and lower grades than their peers.
  • Some research is even connecting elevated levels of lead in children to increases in violent crime in young adulthood.
  • Even small amounts of lead poisoning can lead to significant drops in IQ points. For example, a rise in blood lead level of only five can result in a drop of five IQ points.

Is Your Home Contaminated with Lead?

The most common sources of lead poisoning in children are lead-based paint that over time chips and crumbles into dust, and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings. Contaminated soil, water and air are also sources. If you work in construction, demolition or painting, with batteries, or in a radiator repair shop or lead factory, or if your hobby involves lead, you may unknowingly bring lead into your home on your hands or clothes.

If your home was built before 1950, it absolutely contains lead paint. If built before 1978, it is likely lead paint was used. After 1978, when lead paint was banned, the chances of lead paint being present are highly reduced. About 95 percent of residences in Lancaster City and other cities in the county were built prior to 1978. Children living in some areas of the county have among the most elevated blood lead levels in the state.

The Environmental Protection Agency offers tips on How to Make Your Home Lead-Safe.

When Should a Child Be Tested for Lead Poisoning?

Because the symptoms of lead poisoning (developmental delays, irritability, loss of appetite, learning difficulties) can be hard to detect and usually don’t appear until dangerous levels of lead are present in the blood, the CDC recommends screening for lead poisoning be part of healthcare programs for children age 6 and under.

Screening, which involves a simple blood test, is especially important for children under 3 years of age, and should begin at 9 months if your child is at risk for lead exposure. If your child has not had a lead screening test by age 1 year, and you believe they are at risk, contact your primary care physician to have the test ordered.

Learn the latest on childhood lead poisoning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.