Childhood lead poisoning is the number one environmental health risk facing children in
industrialized countries today. In the United States, more than three million children age
six and younger-- that's one out of every six children in that age group--has toxic levels
of lead in their bodies. Similar proportions of children are affected in other countries,
from Germany to Australia, that have used lead in industry and consumer products. Lead
poisoning affects families from every socioeconomic level, though the problem tends to be
worse in neighborhoods where buildings are not well cared for.
Lead is a powerful
neurotoxin that interferes with the development and functioning of almost all body organs,
particularly the kidneys, red blood cells, and central nervous system. In young children,
lead retards the development of the central nervous system and brain. High levels of lead
exposure can result in coma, convulsions, and death.
At low levels, lead can cause reduced IQ, reading and learning disabilities, attention
deficit disorder and behavioral problems. As a result, childhood lead poisoning is
associated with lower educational achievement, higher rates of high school drop-out and
increased behavioral problems. In the long run, children who are lead poisoned may be less
likely to become positive contributors to our communities and our economy.
The overwhelming cause of lead poisoning in children is lead-based paint in homes. In
the United States, lead was banned in residential paint in 1978. About half of all older
homes in the U.S. contain some leaded paint and approximately two to three million homes
have lead-based paint that is peeling or flaking, an immediate hazard to children.
Invisible lead dust on household surfaces is just as hazardous to children as paint
chips. Most children are lead poisoned today through the ingestion of leaded household
dust. This dust can be created by friction--the opening of windows or the rubbing of a
tight door. Children are also being poisoned by home renovation projects that generate
lead dust. Many home owners are not aware of the hazards of lead removal and unknowingly
poison their children.
[ Preventing lead poisoning ]
Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. All it requires is:
- Awareness of the risk of lead poisoning and particularly the danger in home renovations.
- Identification of children who are at risk or who are already poisoned.
- Removal and reduction of the lead hazards in homes, child care centers, and schools.
- Kiwanis clubs can help eliminate lead poisoning by working in any of these areas.
Clubs may be able to coordinate their activities with the local health department. In
areas where lead poisoning is not yet identified as a priority, clubs can spearhead a
coalition with local pediatricians, children's hospitals, contracting firms, home
builders, and schools.
[ Raising awareness ]
The first challenge of an awareness campaign is to alert the community to the problem:
childhood lead poisoning is a threat to all children under the age of six.
Misconceptions about lead poisoning prevent action. Many people think the problem of
lead poisoning was solved when lead was taken out of paint and gasoline. Others believe
that a few youngsters living in extreme poverty get lead poisoning when they eat chips of
peeling paint. The truth is that lead poisoning will continue to threaten children as long
as lead is present in our environment and homes.
Many people fixing up their homes unknowingly place themselves and their families at
risk of lead poisoning. Improper removal of lead-based paint creates leaded dust which is
hazardous both to the worker and the family. Young children and pregnant women are
particularly at risk. Alerting the public to this risk is one of the best methods of
preventing childhood lead poisoning.
The public also should learn about other possible sources of lead poisoning: in soil
around lead-painted homes, in drinking water, in some enameled dishes and crystal, and
Kiwanis clubs could play a key role in prevention by launching a comprehensive public
education campaign. It should include every possible method of spreading the word.
The media--Press articles, newspaper advertisements, radio public service
announcements, television and radio interviews.
Special events--Town meetings, community forums, fairs, social club meetings,
professional organization meetings.
Printed materials--Brochures, pamphlets, flyers, posters.
Try to identify the places in your community where your target audience might go or
meet. For example, people involved in home repair will go to the hardware store or lumber
yard. Most pregnant women will be receiving care from an obstetrician or a clinic. Target
your activities to these places.
[ Identifying lead poisoning ]
Early identification of lead poisoning can ensure proper medical treatment and reduce the
long-term threat to a child's development. A simple blood test is all that is needed. All
children should be tested by their first birthday and then at least once a year until age
Nine out of ten children are never tested for lead poisoning. This means many of the
children affected are never identified. Early identification of children with lead
poisoning can ensure proper medical and environmental follow-up and can prevent more
serious damage due to continued lead exposure.
A community-wide screening fair would be an important step toward identifying all the
children with lead poisoning in the community. The screening could also serve as a way to
raise awareness about the problem, the risk of renovation, and the need to clean up the
lead in a child's environment. Lead screening could be incorporated into a larger health
screening effort, such as a health fair or immunization drive, or it can be organized on
its own. In either situation, a club can help in several ways.
[ Professional recruitment ]
A club should find trained medical professionals who would be willing to volunteer their
time to do the screening. It will be important to arrange for medical follow-up for any
children identified with high levels of lead. Locate private pediatricians, clinics and
hospitals that provide care to lead-poisoned children. The club may also offer to pay for
follow-up treatment if no other resource is available.
In some areas, lead poisoning prevention activities will be coordinated by the local or
state health department or a local children's hospital. Clubs interested in screening
should first contact the health department and hospital to identify current programs and
resources and to discuss options for screening: locations, events, and so forth.
However, the local health department may not have established any program or be
interested in the project. Some health departments may believe that lead poisoning is not
a problem in their communities. The only way to know if there is a problem is through
screening children, and a club can organize that screening.
[ Site selection ]
The best sites are centrally located, offer easy access, and draw young children and their
parents. Shopping centers, toy stores, churches, museums and fast food restaurants are
possibilities. So are child care centers, pre-schools, Head Start Programs, and
playgrounds. Contact the director or manager of a few possible sites and discuss the
possibility of a screening.
[ Joint projects ]
Reaching all children at risk may require some special planning to draw children. A
screening effort can be coordinated with a health fair, immunization drive, or some other
special event. Incorporating lead screening may be cost effective and help increase
[ Getting the lead out ]
Ultimately, preventing childhood lead poisoning may require removing the lead in a child's
environment. This is the best way to prevent lead poisoning, and it is vital for children
who are already poisoned. Removing lead-based paint, called abatement, can be hazardous
and requires specialized training and safety precautions. Many localities, however, do not
have the trained work force, materials, or resources to safely and properly identify and
remove lead-based paint. Kiwanis clubs can help build this capacity in a number of ways.
[ Providing resources ]
The cost of properly removing lead-based paint can be prohibitive. Many families and
small-scale property owners cannot afford this expense. If the lead is not properly
removed, lead poisoned children will be continuously exposed and poisoned anew.
Providing Loans/Grants--A club can help by developing a revolving loan fund to finance
lead-based paint abatement or by guaranteeing a loan made from a local bank.
Purchasing Equipment--The best way to check for lead-based paint in a building is to
bring in a portable X-ray fluorescence machine. Safe clean-up involves a HEPA vacuum (High
Efficiency Particulate Air vacuum). These pieces of equipment cost more than $1,000 each.
Purchasing Materials--Windows, doors, and woodwork often need to be replaced. Walls
need to be paneled or covered.
Providing Temporary Shelter-- The best time to abate a home is when it is unoccupied.
All occupants should be out of the house, but it is particularly important for pregnant
women and children. A club could provide a lead-safe home for families who need to be
Training Workers--Improperly conducted abatement can also create a danger to the worker
and the family. Lead is a hazardous substance, and people working with it must be trained
in safety techniques to protect their own health. A club could send members of the
community (including club members) to a training center for lead-based paint abatement. To
learn more about these training centers, contact the Alliance to End Childhood Lead
Poisoning (address and phone below).
[ Resources ]
The organizations listed below offer materials that may assist a club in developing a
lead-poisoning prevention program.
Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning
600 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Suite 100
Washington, DC 20003
The Alliance staff offers technical assistance and will help clubs find local contacts
who can offer expert advice for a local prevention program. The Alliance also provides
materials on request. These include: Guide to State Lead Screening Laws, Resource Guide
for Financing, Lead-Based Paint Cleanup, and copies of fact-filled articles from
newspapers, magazines, and other organizations.
Lead Institute of San Francisco
P.O. Box 591244
San Francisco, CA 94118
(800) 532-3837 orders only
(415) 885-4645 information
Offers a free pamphlet on lead poisoning and sells testing kits and a book on lead
National Lead Information Center/Hotline
1019 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036-5105
Offers a variety of brochures and fact sheets aimed at parents, explaining the dangers
of lead poisoning, the importance of testing children, and safe home renovations. Also
provides a list of state contacts.
National Maternal and Child Health Clearinghouse
38th and R Streets NW
Washington, DC 20057
(703) 821-8955 ext. 254
Offers a book titled Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, a state-by-state listing of
experts and programs on lead screenings, medical treatment, paint testing, home
inspection, and abatement. One copy free on request.
Films Incorporated Video
5547 N. Ravenswood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60640
(800) 323-4222 ext. 43
Offers a videotape and study guide titled Kids and Lead Hazards: What Every Family
Should Know. Developed by Consumers Reports Television and Connecticut Public Television.
Cost: $29.95 (includes shipping and handling).
[ Do-it-yourself testing kits ]
Lead paint and coatings
Kits designed to test for lead paint only indicate whether lead is present in the paint
and do not indicate the amount of lead. Low levels of lead detected by a laboratory often
aren't detected by these kits.
Frandon Lead Alert
P.O. Box 300321
Seattle, WA 98103
Cost: $29.95 plus $3.50 shipping/handling
Lead Check Swabs
P.O. Box 1210
Framingham, MA 01701
Cost: $17.00 for an 8-pack; $28.45 for a 16-pack, good for an average house; $68.50 for a
Lead in water
Applied Technical Services, Inc.
Environmental Science Division
1190 Atlanta Industrial Drive
Marietta, GA 30066
Cost: $24.95 for kit
National Testing Laboratories
151 Wilson Mills Road
Cleveland, OH 44143
Suburban Water Testing
4600 Kutztown Road
Temple, PA 19560
Water Test Corporation
33 South Commercial Street
Manchester, NH 03101
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[ Additional resources ]
A reproducible brochure titled "Get the Lead Out" appears in the printed version
of this service bulletin. The printed bulletin also includes a sample press release, radio
PSAs, a sample letter to parents, and a sample poster. The printed bulletin can be ordered
by calling 317-875-8755 ext. 214.
If you have any questions about this bulletin or would like a hard copy, please
Program Development Department
3636 Woodview Trace
Indianapolis, IN 46268-3196
317/875-8755, ext. 214
800/549-2647 (North America only)
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