Teachers and childhood caregivers play a vital role in protecting children from lead poisoning. Since the average child spends almost 1/3 of their day, 5 days a week at some sort of child care facility, it is easy to see the importance of teachers and other childhood caregivers being educated in lead safety and lead hazard awareness. Very young children explore the world by putting things in their mouths, placing them at risk for ingesting lead. Exposure to lead is toxic and can cause many serious health problems including permanent brain damage and in severe cases, coma or death.
Lead poisoning may not be noticed until it is too late and since it is one of the few causes of social and learning problems and disabilities we know how to solve, it is also easy to see why prevention is critical.
The only sure way to know if a child has been poisoned by lead is to have a blood test. Given the harmful effects of lead poisoning, it is important for childcare providers to encourage both the parents and the childcare facilities they work in to have their children tested for lead poisoning.
LEAD AND LEARNING
Even at low levels, the presence of lead in the bloodstream has been found to slow a child's development. Children may begin displaying learning and behavioral problems, be unable to remember what they have just been taught, be excitable or hyperactive, have an inability to pay attention, get frustrated quickly, be aggressive or violent and have a lowered IQ. Children poisoned by lead are seven times more likely to drop out of school.
How does lead poisoning affect education?
Teachers often face the consequences of childhood lead poisoning without even knowing that is what they are seeing. Here are some common symptoms:
Children who cannot sit still long enough to read a sentence
Children who seem bright enough but just don't seem to learn
Children who act out every impulse
It doesn't take many such children in a classroom to disrupt learning for all the students. Teachers who do not realize that these may be symptoms of lead poisoning may feel overwhelmed with frustration at their seeming inability to teach these children. You need to understand that neither you nor the child has failed. The failure is the community's in not preventing this invisible monster from stealing this child's future.
“After all, it is educators who will face the formidable challenge of trying to prepare future generations of
children for productive life in the 21st century after society has allowed those children
to suffer ongoing lead exposure at levels known to undermine their educational potential.”
-Jacquelyne Faye Jackson, Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley
If you suspect lead poisoning, check your student's file to see whether there is any documentation of blood lead level testing.
Just like children with other types of brain damage, children who are lead poisoned can learn. But they need special help, and they may never learn as well or as quickly.
Sesame Street Lead Away! (1996)
This video, featuring the beloved characters of Sesame Street, presents a complicated subject in ways that can easily be understood by children and their families. Click here to view the video on-line.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT EXPOSURE TO LEAD?
It is important to determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where your child may spend a large amount of time (e.g., grandparents or daycare). In housing built before 1978, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise.
Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
Children should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. They should not participate in activities that disturb old paint or in cleaning up paint debris after work is completed.
Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources. Until environmental clean-up is completed, parents should clean and isolate all sources of lead. They should close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls. You can also apply temporary barriers such as contact paper or duct tape, to cover holes in walls or to block children’s access to other sources of lead.
Regularly wash children’s hands and toys. Hands and toys can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil. Both are known lead sources.
Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components. Because household dust is a major source of lead, parents should wet-mop floors and wet-wipe horizontal surfaces every 2-3 weeks. Windowsills and wells can contain high levels of leaded dust. They should be kept clean. If feasible, windows should be shut to prevent abrasion of painted surfaces or opened from the top sash.
Prevent children from playing in bare soil; if possible, provide them with sandboxes. Parents should plant grass on areas of bare soil or cover the soil with grass seed, mulch, or wood chips, if possible. Until the bare soil is covered, parents should move play areas away from bare soil and away from the sides of the house. If using a sandbox, parents should also cover the box when not in use to prevent cats from using it as a litter box. That will help protect children from exposure to animal waste.
OTHER FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- How do I determine whether my school has a problem with lead paint?
First, check when the school was built. If it was built before 1978, it is likely to contain lead-based paint. If it was built after 1992, it probably does not. Generally, the older the paint, the higher the lead content. (In 1978, paint containing more than 0.06 percent lead was banned, however, old stocks of leaded paint were still used for more than a decade.) Next, ask if the school is planning to identify and address lead hazards. Then ask to go on a walk-through inspection. Look for chipping or blistering paint. If you see paint that is deteriorating, ask the school to test those areas.
- Why should we be concerned only about peeling and chipped paint?
Paint that is peeling or chipping poses an immediate safety hazard for young children, since eating even one paint chip can lead poison a child. Intact lead paint is still a potential problem, because eventually it will deteriorate, and in the meantime it may be releasing lead dust. Removal of intact paint, however, could release higher levels of lead inside the school than leaving the paint in place.
- What is considered to be an unacceptable level of lead in paint?
Lead-based paint is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as any paint that contains more than 0.5 percent lead by weight (or about 1 milligram per square centimeter of painted surface). This is the "action level" at which the EPA recommends removal of lead paint if it is deteriorating and chipping.
- My school has covered up chipped lead paint with boards or fenced off certain areas. Is that an acceptable way to prevent lead paint exposure?
Covering over deteriorating lead paint by enclosing or encapsulating the surfaces is an effective temporary measure. Wallpaper, wallboards, or fencing to restrict access to areas containing lead paint can all help reduce children's exposure in the short term. In the longer term, removal of the paint is advisable. Removal must be done using proper procedures, when children are not in the building. Simply painting over lead-based paint is not an effective control strategy.
- My school is nearly 40 years old, but school officials say there is no evidence of deteriorating lead paint, so they won't do anything about it.
If the school has trained personnel monitoring the situation, and the paint is not deteriorating, interim control measures should adequately protect children from exposure to lead hazards. However, the school should have clear policies for monitoring and reevaluation of the paint, dust removal, and other forms of maintenance. Constant vigilance can be an effective short-term approach, but the school still needs to plan for permanent removal of lead-based paint.
- How do I know if a child has lead poisoning? Should I encourage child testing?
All children should be evaluated by a doctor for lead exposure when they are about one year old; older children may also need to be evaluated if exposure is suspected. Remember, a child can have a lead level that is above the level of concern while showing no symptoms. Children in the second grade or below and special-needs children with developmental disabilities are at greatest risk.
Lead in Toys (:30)
Lead in Toys (en español)(:30)
Lead in Jewelry & Toys (2:46)