Opening an email to read that my baby son, barely nine months old, had lead in his blood left me feeling like I had somehow failed the little guy.
The email from our doctor said his level was not dangerously high, barely noticeable, really. But it was high enough to suggest there is an environmental cause.
I wanted to act. And as is my way, I started researching.
So, I read. I read that 4% of children in the US have lead poisoning, old lead-based paint is the main problem, and there might be consequences for my son’s brain development and central nervous system.
Even low levels of lead poisoning pose a threat to his mental focus, IQ, behavior, and learning abilities.
And my sense of guilt wasn’t eased by a 2012 study showing children younger than three exposed to low levels of lead were put at a
considerable educational disadvantage compared with their unexposed peers 7 to 8 years later.
These students, it found, are at greater risk of performing below basic expectations in school exams.
But thankfully, there are things I can do before this becomes a major health issue. Early detection, removing the source, and diet management can all help.
Identifying the Guilty Party
Children can get lead poisoning from chewing on pieces of peeling paint or swallowing house dust or soil with tiny chips of leaded paint.
And we are pretty sure old paint is our culprit. Our water is in the clear, thanks to tests by our local authority.
But our house, a Dutch-style colonial built more than a 100 years ago, has some patches of lead paint, not many, but a few.
Areas of lead paint are visible around our windows – scratched by a dog that won’t let a stranger walk past the house in peace.
Then there are the doors of an old built-in cabinet in the dining room. They rub with every opening and closing, potentially releasing lead dust each and every time.
Other patches exist, too. All of which make our quirky home, with its odd nooks and crannies and peculiar shaped rooms, more of a safety hazard than a safe toddler playground.
Excuse for a Family Break
But we are taking action. We are taking a rare family break while we have work done on the house to get rid of areas of scratched and peeling paint.
Lead paint sealer is being applied to areas with no visible peeling, in an effort to avoid future problems.
Fighting Back with Food and Supplements
We also clean his hands more regularly, to reduce the chances of lead dust going from his hands to his mouth.
Then there is his diet.
We pay more attention to when he eats, as empty stomachs absorb more lead. His meals include more foods that can reduce lead absorption and may lower blood levels, especially those rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
A lot of what we picked up about how his diet can help came from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
He is also on a supplement regimen to help ensure he gets the vitamins and minerals he needs.
Our doctor advised that we use multivitamins with iron. Children with iron deficiency can absorb much more lead. And iron may help lower lead levels in children.
Vitamin C may enhance iron’s ability to lower lead levels. It may also help your child’s body excrete lead.
And a high level of calcium will reduce the amount of lead your child’s body can retain.
So, now we wait. A follow up blood test in a couple of weeks will let us know whether our efforts have helped, or if we have more to do.
I am nervously optimistic he will be fine.
For Further Information
WebMd has a great section covering this topic
HealthyChildren.org also discusses the issue
Our local authority in Brown County, Wisconsin, has good information on its website
And Lead Safe Illinois has a comprehensive website focusing on the issue