Lead is a metal found in the environment kids can be exposed to through a variety of methods. We worry about lead because lead toxicity is associated with decreased IQ and often has no symptoms until the level becomes very high; in those cases it can cause anemia, decreased kidney function, seizures, and behavioral changes. There is no known safe level of lead exposure, with any amount having the potential to cause cognitive deficits. Children younger than 6 years old are at a higher risk for neurologic effects because lead is taken up more easily into the central nervous system. They are also at higher risk for exposure due to behaviors such as crawling and increased hand to mouth contact. For this reason, we screen children routinely at their 9 month and 2 year check-up.
Your child may be exposed to lead through the environment. Glass, plastics, plumbing, paint, ceramics, cosmetics, and spices can all be contaminated with lead. In the United States, lead has been banned from the aforementioned products, but paint from homes built prior to 1978 often contains lead, which kids can be exposed to if the paint is chipped or peeling. Parents who work in construction renovating older homes, glass or plastic manufacturing, welding, or work at firing ranges may have lead residue on clothing when coming home from work. Additionally, spices, jewelry, pottery, painted toys, candy, and cosmetics that are imported from other countries may be contaminated with lead. Recently, the spice turmeric, which is a popular cooking spice, has been implicated in lead exposure. Turmeric is produced mainly in India and Bangladesh. It is used widely in curry and other recipes, is a part of traditional Ayurvedic medicine, and has become a popular homeopathic supplement here in the United States for possible anti-inflammatory properties. There is evidence that some turmeric may be contaminated with lead chromate, perhaps to give it a more vibrant yellow color. There have been several recalls of turmeric in the past 2 years due to concerns of lead contamination. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5415259/)
So how do we prevent exposure? If parents are working in some of the above mentioned careers, they can change clothes and wash hands prior to interacting with their child at the end of the day. Make sure any old paint in the home is intact to avoid any accidental ingestions by small children. Limit exposure to imported items that may be contaminated as listed above. If using turmeric, make sure it isn’t imported and check the CDC website for any recent recalls. And most importantly, be sure to make it to your regular check-up so we can make sure that level is undetectable!