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A few years ago I wrote a story about lead poisoning for Parents Magazine. After my month of interviews I can tell you that almost half of the homes in the U.S. contain lead. Also, that most instances of lead poisoning go undetected. And that the most common age to become affected is between ages one and two.

Lead paint is one of the culprits, so anyone who lives in a home built before 1977 — when the U.S. government banned lead paint — is at risk. Especially if you’ve recently done renovations. But there are other sources as well. Ammunition, foreign mini blinds, or being close to a highway or major road (where, theoretically, there might be a build up of lead from car exhaust) increases risk. Also, there have been many, many toy recalls because of high levels of lead. Who cares, you might wonder? Well, here’s an excerpt from my Parents article:

“Although lead can be toxic to nearly every organ in a child’s body, lead poisoning most commonly causes learning disabilities, speech delays, and behavioral problems, including aggressiveness. Physical symptoms run the gamut from poor appetite to stomach pain to persistent sluggishness…In high doses, lead poisoning can lead to kidney damage, deafness, and coma.”

Scary stuff, right? And now there’s one more source of potential lead to worry about. Yesterday, researchers from Virginia Tech identified another source: brass products in plumbing systems that can leach high levels of lead into drinking water even in brand new buildings. Water faucets and drinking fountains can be affected. Lead leeches out into the water, and then you cook in it or kids drink or bathe in it and you’ve got a problem.

So what’s a person to do? Get your kids tested for lead, of course. Some states mandate testing in childhood, some don’t. (Anyone on Medicaid, for example, gets the test.) It’s a simple pinprick. And just because your child passes the test (has low levels) at 18 months, ask for a retest every few years. You can also get tested before getting pregnant to make sure you have a clean bill of health since the fetus can be affected by high lead levels. (High lead levels are linked to an increased risk of maternal high blood pressure or preeclampsia.)

Have you ever done a home lead test? Have your kids been tested for lead? I’d like to know.

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