Lead exposure: 5 things you need to know

1. Lead exposure is one of the most common preventable poisonings of childhood. It is estimated that one out of every six children in the United States, or a total of over three million children, have blood levels in the toxic range. Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because their rapidly developing nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead.

2. Almost all children in the United States are exposed to lead. Common sources include lead paint and lead contained in water and soil. Over 50 million homes, including a majority of those built before 1980, contain lead-based paint.

3. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child's development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

4. Parents should make sure that their homes are free of lead paint and that the lead level in their drinking water is acceptably low. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children be screened for exposure to lead. A simple and inexpensive blood test all can determine whether or not a child has a dangerous level of lead in his or her body. The test can be obtained through a physician, or public health agency.

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