Lead poisoning causes about 143,000 deaths and 600,000 intellectual disabilities in children around the world each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and every single one of those disabilities is entirely preventable. As part of Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Oct. 20-26, WHO is calling on all European countries to “join forces” in lead paint elimination.
“Lead poisoning remains one of the most important environmental health concerns for children globally, and lead paint is a major flashpoint for children’s potential lead poisoning,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO’s director of public health and environment, according to the United Nations.
WHO announced that a number of countries, including Albania, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, will help advocate for lead poisoning prevention and training for health care providers. Although most of Europe has eliminated lead from petrol — which resulted in a 20 year decline in children's blood lead levels — WHO says many industrial processes, paint, solder in canned foods, and water pipes still contain lead.
Lead poisoning occurs when a person gets lead into their body, usually by inhalation or consumption. Lead paint can chip off of walls and become dust, which is easily inhaled by children and adults alike. Lead can also be found on toys, furniture, and other household objects, as well as in water and soil.
According to Mayo Clinic, children ages 6 and younger are more susceptible to lead poisoning than any other age group. Complications of lead poisoning include irreversible damage to the brain, central nervous system, and kidneys, seizures, and possibly death. Symptoms include irritability and fatigue. Adults are also at risk for kidney disease and raised blood pressure, Neira said. So far, 30 countries have eliminated lead from paint and other sources. By 2015, the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint hopes to bring that number up to 70.
“The good news is that exposure to lead paint can be entirely stopped through a range of measures to restrict the production and use of lead paint,” Neira added.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made efforts to eliminate lead poisoning, it warns that homes built before 1978 may still contain lead paint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least four million households nationwide, expose the children inside of them to lead. About 500,000 of these children are also exposed to enough lead that their blood lead levels are higher than five micrograms per deciliter, the level at which the CDC recommends health action.
The New York State Department of Health recommends a number of measures that can be taken to reduce lead exposure. They are:
· Fix peeling lead paint and make home repairs safely.
· Wash dust off windows, hands, toys, bottles, and floors. Also wash your child's face to remove any dust after play, before meals, and before bedtime.
· Be aware of lead that might have gotten onto clothes, toys, or jewelry. Some older products may contain lead, before regulations took effect. Also, certain jobs and hobbies have lead exposure hazards, such as construction or stained glass, so prevent spreading the hazard to your children.
· Keep lead out of food and tap water. Don't use pewter dishes or cracked pottery, which may contain led, to store food. If you suspect lead in your pipes and have not used them for a few hours, let the water run for a minute before using it.
· Eat foods that are high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C — these foods will also keep the body from storing lead.