By Rossany Auceda, Iowa Department of Public Health
How safe is my child? This is a typical question of concerned parents about their child’s blood lead level and what it means.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “There is not a safe blood lead level for children”. Recently, CDC lowered the blood-lead reference value from 5 to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). This means that a child with a blood lead result greater than or equal to 3.5 mcg/dL has a lead level higher than most children tested.
Lead poisoning can cause damage to the child’s brain and the nervous system, behavioral problems, anemia, hearing loss, liver and kidney damage, hyperactivity, seizures, developmental delays, and in extreme cases, death.
When lead is found in a child’s system, it is important to remove it as quickly as possible to prevent long term health impacts from occurring. What can be done to get the lead out? First, it is important to identify and remove the source of lead from the child’s environment. Most children in Iowa are lead poisoned because of their contact with deteriorated lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil.
Repairing lead hazards is not always an option for low-income families. However, there are many inexpensive ways to reduce or eliminate sources of lead in the home. One of them is to block or cover the lead-based paint hazards with other objects (furniture) or non-hazardous materials (non-lead paint). The idea is to prevent the child from coming into contact with lead paint hazards, like paint chips, dust, and soil that can be ingested.
The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has identified other sources of lead that have poisoned children. For instance, lead glazed pottery or porcelain, traditional home remedies that contain lead such as azarcon and greta, and spices and candies from Mexico and Southeast Asia. In cases like this, IDPH recommends families avoid using these and other products not approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In addition, IDPH recommends the following practices:
- Clean the house more regularly, especially the areas where the child plays, eats and sleeps. Including toys (stuffed animals) and other items that the child uses.
- Wash a child’s hands with soap and water.
- Provide a well-balanced diet rich in iron and calcium such as beans, green leafy vegetables, fruits, cereals and milk products, among others. Proper nutrition helps a child’s body eliminate lead faster.
Children 6-12 months in age become lead poisoned quickly and easily, their levels are higher between 18-36 months in age. It is important to get children tested early and often to determine their blood lead level and actions needed to help them get the lead out of their bodies.
Contact the Iowa Department of Public Health at (515) 281-3225 or at 800-972-2026 or visit us online at