Keeping Kids Safe from Lead

By: Matt Stienstra, Advocacy Campaign Manager, Hunger Task Force

For hundreds of years, lead was used in building materials and everyday products. Lead is versatile, durable and easily attainable. However, even small amounts of lead are harmful, especially to younger children and women of child-bearing age. Lead can cause permanent damage to our health. In some U.S. cities, more than 30 percent of children are testing for high levels of lead in their blood. It is vital that families are empowered with information about lead exposure, how to identify it, what to do and what to avoid.

What should you know about lead? And how can you protect your family?

There are three main sources of lead exposure: water, paint and the environment (soil and man-made products).

Many families are aware of lead in the water Throughout the U.S., homes built before 1962 often had lead pipes or services lines and the use of lead pipes was not banned until 1986. When water sits in pipes for hours (like overnight) lead can seep into the water. The single best action that eliminates lead in our water is to buy a NSF/ANSI 53 certified water filter. These filters start at $20 and will ensure lead-free water. Women of child-bearing age and children under six years old should always drink and cook with filtered or bottled water. Families that participate in WIC should ask their clinic about how to get a free filter. Families that cannot purchase a filter should run the cold water tap for no less than 3 minutes between uses.

Lead paint is a major source of exposure for children. Lead was used in paint until 1978. When paint cracks, chips or peels, it is a danger for children. Look for lead paint (especially around windows, floors and doors) that is chipping or peeling. Use paper towels, soap and water to wipe surfaces where paint is chipping as well as hands, bottles and toys where lead dust could be present. If possible, cover the surface with new paint or a sealant.

Lead can also be found in the soil or everyday products. Homes built before 1978 often contain lead in the soil. Children often ingest more lead because of hand-to-mouth behaviors. If you live in a home without grass, keep children out of the soil. Wash dirt off of hands, toys and clothes and avoid tracking dirt inside the house.

No matter where you are exposed to lead, what you eat can help. Hungry children absorb lead five to ten times faster. Eating a healthy, balanced diet that contains good sources of iron, vitamin C and calcium can help reduce lead absorption. Many federal nutrition programs help connect vulnerable families to healthy meals. From FoodShare to the School Breakfast Program, from WIC to the Summer Food Service Program, these vital programs can provide the critical nutrition that families need.

What steps have you taken to keep your child safe from lead?

Want more information? Hunger Task Force is working with Penfield Children’s Center to help empower families with the information they need. Contact Matt Stienstra at matt.stienstra@hungertaskforce.org or visit GetWellFed.org to learn more.

Hunger Task Force co-chairs the Milwaukee Nutrition and Lead Task Force. A coalition of topic experts from government, community and academia, the Nutrition and Lead Task Force has a goal of educating the tens of thousands of families across Milwaukee that have a high risk of exposure to lead by distributing a series of culturally-competent materials and partnering with community organizations across Milwaukee.

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