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Title: Why Should We Be Concerned About Lead

Category: Child Care


This year the federal government has decided to launch a major effort to detect and eliminate lead poisoning in children. This has been a well known health problem for decades but new studies indicating possible brain effects at lower levels than previously thought has finally directed greater public health attention at the federal level. It is estimated that 17% of our nation's children are at risk of developing blood lead levels of 15 micrograms per deciliter or more. Deficits in neuro-behavioral development may occur as low as 10 to 15 micrograms per deciliter. Approximately four hundred thousand fetuses are exposed to maternal levels greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter and, thus, may be at risk. The chief sources of lead poisoning exposure include paint, water in plumbing, dust, soil and gasoline.

In the 60's, action levels for lead control were considered above 60 micrograms per deciliter; in the 70's, 30 micrograms per deciliter; and in 1985, 25 micrograms per deciliter. Now, in 1991, we are concerned about levels as low as 10 to 15. Treatment for levels in this range are not necessary but suggestions for families whose children have levels in the 10, 15 to 25 micrograms per deciliter include teaching them to eliminate sources of the lead (peeling lead paint in the home or lead emitted from old pipes or in the dust and soil around their home). Federal agencies involved in the lead cleanup effort include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Health and Human Services Department. Besides prevention and ongoing monitoring, children with very high levels are treated in several ways with medicines including intravenous chelating agents such as depenicillinamine, calcium EDTA, and British anti-lewisite. The government, through the above agencies, is making efforts to better control lead level exposure in the air, water, food and paint. For families interested in more information, they can write to the agency for toxic substances and disease registry, which is a branch of the U.S. Public Health Service at:

US Public Health Service
F38 1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333

Besides lead, the government is also interested in over-exposure to other chemicals potentially dangerous to our health including radon, asbestos, benzine, arsenic, methylene chloride, and poly-chlorinated biphenals.