Rise in Childhood Lead Poisoning Is a Result of Covid Lockdowns

COVID has affected just about every aspect of our lives, from how we work, how we exercise, how we eat, to how we teach our children, and how we interact with our friends and family. Some days it seems like there is no end to what COVID will take away from us. Fortunately, we’ve learned over the last year to buckle down and stay home to stay safe. Except, is that always the case?

What happens when there are dangers at home that may go overlooked and undetected because of a viral pandemic?

Lead can be a hidden danger in your home, primarily if your home was constructed before the 1970s. Stay-at-home orders mean that families have more exposure to toxic substances in their home, children are attending fewer age-appropriate lead screenings, and lead removal efforts have been delayed. The trifecta of lead poisoning is alarming.

What Is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring chemical element that is found in the outer layer of the earth. It does have some functional purposes, but it is toxic to humans and animals, causing ill health and developmental concerns.

Lead can be found everywhere on the planet – the air, the soil, the water, and, yes, there are lead sources inside our homes. We can even find lead in some unexpected places. We owe much of our exposure to human activities. Our addiction to fossil fuels, which includes leaded gasoline, certain kinds of industrial facilities, and past use of lead-based paint in our houses, is to blame many times.

Unfortunately, lead and its compounds have been used in a variety of products found throughout our homes, this includes:

  • Paint
  • Ceramics
  • Pipes
  • Gasoline
  • Batteries
  • Ammunition
  • Makeup

What Is Occurring with COVID?

When COVID-19 cases shot up last March, lockdowns became our new routine. When our time spent in our homes rose, children were increasingly exposed to lead in the home. Because of the exploding COVID fears in many communities, it delayed regular visits to the pediatrician for yearly checkups, including lead screenings. The CDC estimates that around 10,000 children with high levels of the heavy metal in their blood may have gone untested.

Health authorities fear that hundreds of thousands of children could have missed an essential window for lead testing. In the Upper Midwest, testing for lead poisoning fell by 50% for more this spring.

Medicaid requires children receiving benefits to be tested at ages one and two, because of developmental milestones they should be meeting that lead can derail.

Lead is something that can lead to a lifetime of permanent symptoms and ill-effects, including:

  • Cognitive Issues
  • Behavioral Changes
  • Neurological Problems
  • Developmental Delays
  • Hearing Problems
  • Anemia
  • Coma

Covid also postponed or slowed efforts to detect and remove lead from homes. Even when lead was discovered, the increased financial burden on families from job losses and medical bills meant there was less money to spend on repairs.

The CDC calculates that there are more than 20 million homes in the United States with lead-based paint not strictly banned until 1978. If the paint cracks, flakes, or peels, people can breathe it in. And children are especially vulnerable. There is no safe level for a child. Your child’s doctor can help you with a lead risk assessment for your child.

How is Lead Poisoning Treated in Children?

If you live in a home or work in an environment with a high risk for lead exposure, it’s crucial to understand how lead poisoning is treated. The first step to treating anyone with lead exposure is to remove the source of the heavy metal.

The good news is that for children with low blood levels of lead, avoiding additional exposure should be sufficient. For children with higher blood levels, there are two therapies doctors use:

  • Chelation Therapy

This treatment is for a child that has a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater. A medication is given to the child orally to bind with the lead. It is later excreted in the urine.

  • EDTA Chelation Therapy

This therapy is usually reserved for adults with lead levels of higher than 45 mcg/dL, but it is also used in children who cannot tolerate traditional chelation therapy. Doctors use a chemical called calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid given via injection.

Staying Safe at Home

While we stay tucked away at home, it’s wise to remain vigilant to the threat of lead that can be present in certain homes in the United States to keep our children safe. Now more than ever, we have to know how to protect our families, so our homes can truly be our refuge. There are some essential lead safety resources every homeowner should know.

If you are a contractor and want to know how to determine lead sources, you must be EPA Lead Inspector Certified. ZotaPro has a variety of EPA Lead Paint Certified courses for renovators, inspectors, and supervisors. These courses give contractors the knowledge to work with lead-containing materials to keep not only themselves safe, but homeowners safe as well.