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lead poisoning

Lead Poisoning and Behavioral Health: Rural and Urban Kids at Risk

Last week was National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a week circled on the calendars for individuals, organizations, and governments to work together to reduce childhood exposure to lead.  Of the many environmental hazards that children can be exposed to, the sources of lead are easy to identify, and can be found everywhere.

Why Kids?

The reason that children are a focus for this week is that lead is linked to developmental problems, both prenatal and postnatal.  Lead is linked to learning disabilities, hearing and speech problems, inability to focus, and anti-social issues.  Some symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, tiredness, and irritability.  All of these symptoms can impact a child’s behavioral wellness, too.

Admittedly, this is a common list of symptoms for many disorders.  But whether you live in a farm house in Perry or an old bungalow in East Buffalo, if you live in a home built before 1978, you are likely exposed to lead.  The walls may have several layers of lead-based paint.  The plumbing may likely have lead-based solder connecting the pipes.

Children have a greater risk of being exposed simply because they tend to put everything in their mouths.  They play on the floors with their toys, which could be contaminated with lead dust from flaking paint.  Ingesting the lead dust (or water from the lead contaminated plumbing) is how lead enters the body.  And it accumulates over time, leading to life-long health issues.

Mental Wellness Connection

Why is lead poisoning important to mental health? Mental health and physical health are equally important and lead poisoning impacts a child’s brain and body. Know the symptoms. Ask for assessment.

New York State has free lead testing at ages 1 and 2 as part of well child care and providers should assess for lead exposure to age 6.  In addition, Erie County provides case management help for children with elevated lead blood levels.

The CDC and Erie County Department of Health have good resources;  while the events have passed, the information on the website is evergreen.

John S. Szalasny

Member, Sierra Club Niagara Group Executive Committee

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