March 31, 2006

Lead: The Silent Poison

By Phuong Tran

Did you know that your home could be poisoning your children? It is hard to imagine a residence as being poisonous, but if your house or apartment was built before 1978, the lead in the paint of your home is toxic.

Lead is a neurotoxin that causes lower IQ, hyperactivity, and shorter attention spans at lower doses and physical disabilities, coma and death at higher doses. Kids under the age of six are most at risk through inhalation of lead contaminated dust and ingestion of paint chippings.

Lead poisoning is highly prevalent in the Latino San Diego community, and San Diego is fourth in the number of pre-1978 homes in California. An estimated 65,000 children under six live in pre-1960 housing in the county. Since the Latino population occupies most of the older homes, Latino children are most at risk. According to 1992-2002 Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) reports, 86 percent of diagnosed cases were in Latino children, mostly in the areas of: Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights, Hillcrest, National City, El Cajon, Chula Vista, Spring Valley, Clairemont, Santee, Linda Vista, Morena, San Marcos and Buena Vista. The Latino community of San Diego needs to recognize its increased risk to lead poisoning. It has much at stake.

It only takes very low levels of exposure in a short amount of time for young kids to be poisoned, but the consequences are life-long. According to the Centers for Disease Control, lead poisoning is the number-one-preventable-environmental health risk to children’s health today. There are no early symptoms of lead poisoning that arise before the damages listed above, so prevention and detection in protecting your children are crucial.

By decreasing the amount of lead in your homes and diet, getting your children tested for lead poisoning through your doctor’s office, and obtaining paint repairs from neighborhood programs, you have the power to prevent lead poisoning in your children.

One of the pathways of lead poisoning is food preparation and consumption. Kids should avoid candies such as Tamarind and instead follow a vitamin C and calcium rich diet which decreases the absorption of lead. There are appetizing, lead-free snacks available such as ice cream, watermelon, avocados, grapes, etc. Families should also avoid cooking food in ceramic pottery from Mexico because the pottery is often rich in lead. Non-ceramic metal cookware is available and is actually much more durable and convenient to use.

Although these diet practices are important in preventing poisoning, lead in household paint is most threatening to children under six. In fact, 28 percent of lead poisoning comes from paint and dust. The dust in your homes is especially dangerous due to its high lead content, so regular dusting with wet towels is recommended. Children should be kept away from peeling and cracking paint, and their hands should be frequently washed, especially after school or playing and before eating.

These practices will decrease your family’s risk to lead poisoning, but if your residence is older than 1978 or if you’re not sure how old your home is, these methods are not enough. Your children’s blood should be tested for lead content. Blood testing is mandated by California State Law for any child who has lived in a place built before 1978 with peeling paint. Testing is covered by all types of insurance; just ask your doctor for testing options. If you do not have insurance or access to a family physician, The San Diego County’s Childhood Lead Poisoning and Prevention Program (CLPPP) provides free blood testing at their office.

If your child’s blood-lead level is found to be higher than normal (>9.5ug/dL) on three consecutive blood-draws within six months, your health insurance (whether Healthy Families, Medi-Cal, CHDP, or private) will provide chelation treatments for neurological damage. If you do not have insurance, California Children’s Services will pay for treatments, so they are free to you. This detection process is even more convenient since CLPPP, in the last six months, has significantly lowered the blood-lead level to qualify for treatments and now has representatives who can do home visits to detect for lead contamination.

For more information on blood testing and treatments from CLPPP, please call (619) 515-6636. Once lead is detected in your homes, there are many free programs with bilingual English-and-Spanish-speaking representatives who are ready to help you remove this toxin from your homes. Getting your child tested for lead poisoning is the crucial first step in ensuring your child’s safety.

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste.” For the safety and protection of your children’s future, please get your kids tested and keep them lead clean. Lead poisoning in children is not a disadvantage that the Latino community should complacently accept. Please take action now.

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