Originally published on Ashcraft & Gerel
Considering lead-based paints were banned for residential use by 1978, you might think lead poisoning would no longer be a worry in most households today. It might surprise you, then, to discover that around 35 percent of U. S. houses still contain lead paint, according to the Department of Urban Housing and Development. At particular risk are tenants in low-income housing where buildings are more likely to be outdated and in disrepair. Landlords who do not take proper care of their rental properties place all young children at serious risk.
It is a normal part of childhood development for toddlers to put toys and other household objects in their mouths. If you live in a home containing lead paint, the dust resulting from wear and tear can gather on these objects. Or, a child might eat flecks of paint they find. Even breathing this dust can cause contamination. An old house in a deteriorated or bad condition can be a big problem for any child who lives there.
Sadly, the risks to children don’t end there. Certain jobs, such as recycling or metalworking, use lead, and there are many documented cases of parents exposing their children to lead from dust on their work clothes. Any industry that puts workers in contact with toxic materials should provide protection to prevent workers’ clothes or shoes from being contaminated. When companies fail to do so, their employees bring toxins like lead home to where their children live.
Why Lead Exposure Is More Dangerous for Children
According to a National Institute of Health study, “an estimated 3.6 million American homes with at least one child have significant lead paint hazards.” Scientists agree there is no acceptable level of lead exposure for children. The substance moves through the bloodstream and gathers in the brain, liver, kidneys, and bones. Because there is no way to rid the body of lead, which is often stored in the teeth and bones, each resultant exposure increases the body’s overall level.
Of particular concern is the fact that lead can cross the blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels meant to prevent toxins from entering brain fluid. Once lead enters the brain, it causes cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), which can impact visual-motor skills, cause attention deficit and other cognitive problems, and lead to irreversible brain damage and brain cell death.
Children are of particular concern because their developing bodies absorb 4-5 times the amount of ingested lead as adults. Calcium, iron, and vitamin C can all help protect against lead absorption. However, especially among lower-income children, deficiencies of these minerals are more common, meaning absorption risks are higher.
While the smallest levels of exposure may not produce any symptoms, low-level contamination can lead to decreases in intelligence, behavioral changes, anemia, hypertension, kidney problems, and organ toxicity. Higher levels of contamination impact the brain and central nervous system, potentially resulting in coma, convulsions, and death. Children who survive extreme lead poisoning may be left with severe mental problems and behavioral disorders, such as hyperactivity, and difficulties learning, concentrating, and listening to instructions.
What to Do if Your Child Is at Risk
There is no cure for lead contamination. Prevention is the most important step a parent can take. Many jurisdictions, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, require landlords to reveal known lead paint hazards to their tenants. There are also laws that regulate rental apartment maintenance, painting, and repairs. If you are unsure whether you have been informed of lead contamination and/or suspect a hazard, contact your landlord in writing. Some situations may call for repair, while others may require legal remedies. Be sure you know the laws for your area or contact a lawyer for help.
If your landlord is not forthcoming with information or help, you can ask for a blood test to see if your child has experienced lead contamination. Even when there are no noticeable symptoms, around half a million children between 1-5 years old have blood levels for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends public health action. Act quickly to find a doctor with whom you are comfortable and ask them to administer a blood test for lead. Many states offer free testing, so check with your local health departments for more information
Because there is no treatment, early discovery is key to preventing severe effects. The following can be signs of dangerous lead levels:
- Developmental delay
- Learning difficulties
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sluggishness and fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Hearing loss
If your child shows signs of being impacted, you can consult with a trusted physician about learning, nutritional, and behavioral programs that can offer some relief.
Protecting Our Most Vulnerable
As the truism goes, children are our future. At Ashcraft & Gerel, we believe in taking action to make sure all children have greater opportunities to learn and achieve. Government studies have proven lead poisoning is unfortunately found in greater concentration in older neighborhoods where minority children reside, and a greater percentage of minority children have been poisoned. This is unacceptable—and we want those in his position to know there is affordable help available.
Know your legal rights. Many states allow claims for children to be filed years after the dangerous exposure to lead. In places like Maryland and the District of Columbia, the statute of limitations or deadline for filing a lawsuit can be as late as the child’s twenty-first (21st) birthday. However, we recommend you not wait if you think you have a case. Consult with one of our attorneys as soon as possible. We offer free initial consultations and work on a contingency basis, so you pay nothing up front.