Thank you for checking out the District of Columbia’s web page dedicated to the belief that the nation’s capital should be the safest place possible for children to live. While there are many dangers that can confront us every day, one that is entirely preventable is exposure to lead.
Please make sure your doctor follows the District law, which requires that all children get screened for lead exposure at both 1 and 2 years of age. That’s right: even if a child shows no lead exposure at age one, the child must be tested again at age two. There is a simple reason for this: children are potentially exposed to lead in different ways, at different stages of their development. Children move around a lot more at age two than they do at age one. They can reach more surfaces and grab more objects.
Other circumstances that require children under the age of six to get a lead test include when a child:
- Lives in or frequently visits housing built before 1978 that has been recently renovated or that is currently undergoing renovation, or where the paint is not well maintained;
- Has a sibling or a playmate who has been diagnosed with lead poisoning; or
- Puts non-food items in their mouth on a frequent, regular basis.
If you have concerns about your child’s potential exposure to lead, please let your pediatrician know, and request a blood lead test. These tests are required by District law, both during well-child visits at one and at two years of age, and if any of the above-described circumstances are occurring.
Why is Testing Important?
Lead is a highly toxic substance, and its most vulnerable victims are the youngest of our children. That’s because lead attacks the brain and central nervous system, both of which are still under development while children are growing from being an infant to being a toddler and a pre-schooler. By attacking these vital organs at such an early time in a child’s life, lead can cause serious and even permanent harm.
Typical effects of lead exposure at an early age are:
- Learning disabilities, including an inability to concentrate;
- Behavior problems, including disruptive or even violent behavior; and
- IQ deficits, a permanent loss of brain power.
Because lead is everywhere, it can be hard to avoid:
- Lead can be found in paint, in particular in homes built before 1978, when the use of lead in our house paint was finally banned. Close to 90% of the District’s housing stock was built before 1978. The older the home, the more likely it is to contain lead paint.
- Lead paint turns into lead dust. Old windows and doors frequently were painted with lead paint, and the grinding of those painted surfaces generates lead dust, which can be very difficult to clean up, but very easy for a child to ingest.
- Lead can be found on and in toys, whether on exterior paint or on interior toy components, and in particular on and in toys or costume jewelry and other inexpensive items imported from China and a few other countries where lead is not adequately regulated.
- Lead can be found in dirt, as a result of leaded gas emissions from passing cars, buses and trucks, before leaded gas was banned in the US during the 1980s, or as a result of old lead paint falling off the exterior of homes, or as a result of renovation work on, or demolition of old homes that failed to include safe ways of handling or properly disposing of the old paint. Since lead does not sink deeply in the soil after being deposited there, playing in dirt can cause lead exposure.
- Lead can still sometimes be found in drinking water. Though the tragic lead problem with the District’s drinking water that occurred during the period 2000-2004 no longer exists, plenty of old pipes still remain under the District’s streets, and it is still possible for lead to leach into drinking water in some homes, schools and daycare centers.
Please be assured that a variety of District agencies are knowledgeable about and working hard to prevent these various ways a child can be exposed to lead. However, some exposures inevitably continue to occur, and the sooner you as a parent can find out about it, the better for your child.
The only way to know if your child is being exposed to lead is to get a blood lead test.
How Can Parents Help Prevent Exposure to Lead?
For more detailed information, please visit the District Department of the Environment’s Lead and Healthy Housing Division and remember, there is plenty you can do to help make sure your child grows up in a lead-safe environment:
- If you live in a home built before 1978 that may still have some old paint on some surfaces, make sure the paint is kept in good condition. Paint deterioration probably causes more lead exposure than any other source of lead in the District of Columbia.
- If you’re a tenant in a pre-1978 home, and you have a child under the age of 6 who either lives with you or is a frequent visitor, or if you or someone in your household is pregnant, or if you have a pregnant person who is a frequent visitor, ask your landlord for a “clearance report” showing your home is lead safe. It’s your right as a tenant under DC law!
- If you’re getting maintenance work done on your pre-1978 home, or if you are renovating or remodeling it, make sure the folks doing the work are properly trained to use lead-safe work practices. It’s the law!
- If you’re not sure about the quality of your drinking water, you can contact DC Water for advice. They also may be able to provide you with free water testing. See www.dcwater.com/lead for more detailed information.
- If you’re not sure how lead-safe your yard is, it’s best to make sure there is no bare soil around for your child to play with. Cover bare soil by planting grass, bushes, or other ground cover.
If you want to make sure your child isn’t playing with a toy known to contain lead, check the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website at www.cpsc.gov -- the website contains a long list of toys and other items that have been recalled due to lead and other issues.
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