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Parents: Get Your Kids Tested for Lead Poisoning

Kid looking out window

Recent media attention is highlighting a very real public health crisis in our community and beyond: lead poisoning. There is a lot of lead in Lancaster County and it’s taking a toll on our kids. More than 13 percent of county children tested have elevated blood lead levels compared to the national average of 4 to 5 percent. Learn what every parent needs to know.

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. Exposure to lead puts infants, children, and the unborn babies of pregnant women at increased risk of brain and neurologic damage. Children under age 6 are most at risk.

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 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you not only evaluate your home for potential sources of lead poisoning, but also the places where your children learn and play.

Parents: Get your Children Tested

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.

For additional resources on lead poisoning prevention, safe renovations, and the health effects of lead, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

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Jeffrey R. Martin, MD

Jeffrey R. Martin, MD, is a family physician with Lancaster General Health Physicians Family & Maternity Medicine

Education: A graduate of Goshen College, the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and the Lancaster General Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program, Dr. Martin is also the co-chair of the Lancaster Lead Coalition, a coalition dedicated to lead poisoning prevention and testing.

Call: 717-544-3737

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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