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More TN Children at Risk for Lead Poisoning

PHOTO: Peeling paint in old homes is a leading source of toxic lead.   2010 Microsoft Corporation
PHOTO: Peeling paint in old homes is a leading source of toxic lead. 2010 Microsoft Corporation
August 13, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - More Tennessee children could be at risk from lead poisoning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cut in half the level of lead exposure deemed to be a health risk. In the meantime, Congress allocated only $2 million for lead-poisoning prevention this year, compared with $29 million the year before.

That leaves very few staff members to get the word out. It also means, says toxicologist Dr. Jennifer Lowry, that it's now up to parents and pediatricians to become more proactive.

"The CDC recommends that lead testing occur at the age of one year and at two years and, actually, annually up until the age of six years."

New studies have found attention problems and reduced IQ in children who are within the new guidelines. Lowery says there is a great concern for lead poisoning from imported goods, but adds that many are unaware of the lead risk in their own homes. In Tennessee, more than 1 million homes were built before 1978, when lead in paint was discontinued.

Parents need to get rid of old paint chips in homes built before 1978, Lowry says, adding that dusting the floors and toys in such homes is important. Homes with old paint on the outside can make the nearby soil hazardous as play areas or for planting vegetables, she says.

"If there's peeling paint chips out in the soil from the home, it gets into the soil and the lead can get there. Usually, it concentrates around the first feet around the home."

Some soil also has been contaminated from the old leaded gasoline. This can happen in homes near highways or around old factory sites. Doctors in Boston last month discovered lead poisoning in a child that came from a folk remedy for the eyes which was brought from Nigeria by the parents.

Parents can't just call up the health department and ask them to test their soil or their home, Lowry says. The children need to be tested first.

"They cannot come out to the home and assess your home for lead hazards unless there is a child that has an elevated lead blood level."

More than 20 million homes have elevated levels of lead contamination in house dust, the CDC says. Lowry says doctors and parents need to be more diligent about testing.

More information is online at

Bo Bradshaw, Public News Service - TN