Beware: How Lead Poisoning Can Sicken Our Children

By Tracy Wright

Approximately 15 percent of Florida’s children have too much lead in their body, and lead poisoning can result in long-term issues with bone growth, poor muscle coordination, damage to the nervous system, developmental delays and behavior issues, among other symptoms.

One of the main sources of lead is paint produced before 1978 which can be in homes, on old toys and painted furniture and in contaminated soil. As paint on older structures breaks down, it can seep into the soil which could endanger playgrounds and open spaces or even vegetables that were grown in that soil.

“Lead poisoning is a serious issue and should be treated seriously,” said Stephanie Kirkconnell, M.D., a pediatrician at Alliance Pediatrics. “Over time, it can cause serious neurocognitive effects. In our office, we screen for lead poisoning regularly at 12 and 24 months via a questionnaire. If there is a chance that the child has been exposed to lead, we follow up with a blood draw to test their exposure.”

Parents who are worried about lead exposure should talk to their pediatrician especially if their child is under the age of three. While many may think paint as the main source of lead, other sources of lead can be plumbing and pipes, lead bullets and fishing sinkers, lead acid batteries, and hobbies involving soldering, stained glass, jewelry making, pottery glazing, and miniature lead figures.

“Parents should examine their habits and occupations in addition to exposure
to paint and soil,” Kirkconnell said. “If a parent or someone who comes into contact frequently works with materials that may contain lead, they should change their clothes after pursuing these activities and wash their hands. For example, if someone is a mechanic, they should change their clothes before entering the house and wash their hands immediately. Those who pursue hobbies using lead-based paint should think about doing their work outside the home but not near soil.”

Lead exposure is much more harmful for children because of their developing bodies and nervous systems. is also includes unborn children so pregnant women should also be aware of their lead exposure as well.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, irritability or behavioral problems, headaches, fatigue, metallic taste in mouth, muscle or joint weakness. If someone suspects lead poisoning in their child, they should call 911 or their poison control center. Once at a medical facility, lead level will be checked. Moderately high levels of lead in children can result in treatment called chelation therapy which is an IV based therapy to remove lead levels from the blood.

The best treatment for lead poisoning is prevention, so if parents suspect that items in their homes may contain unsafe levels of lead, they should speak to an ablation specialist who can test and remove the paint with dangerous lead.

You can also have your plumbing checked especially for those living on a well. Surprisingly, newer homes (5 years old or less) have more of a chance for lead exposure. Some plumbers still use lead solder to join copper pipes, which exposes the water directly to lead. Residents should contact their water utility to test their water and can install a filter to remove lead.

Luckily, lead exposure in Alachua County and in Florida is lower than the rest of the country because the amount of older homes is less than in the Northeast, Kirkconnell said. However, screenings are still important, and awareness is key.

For more information about Lead, visit The National Lead Information Center page on the United States Environmental Protection Agency