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From China and Antarctica to Ohio and California, no nation or state is free of lead poisoning. It affects humans and wildlife, children and adults, with children being the most susceptible to harm from lead.

Wildfires, solar radiation, dirt, home renovations and lead paint exposure are all suspect in the summer disease called lead poisoning. One million children today are affected by lead poisoning, but if parents know what to look for and what to do, lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable.

“Lead poisoning is one of the most important and most preventable pediatric environmental diseases today. Lead poisoning can cause a variety of medical problems, including learning disabilities, anemia, growth problems and behavioral issues,” said Cyrus Rangan, MD, a pediatrician and medical toxicologist with California Poison Control Center. He added that children are most commonly exposed to lead by ingesting paint chips or paint dust and by eating dirt that is contaminated with lead. In the summer, he added, loose dry soil may lead to an increased risk in lead exposure in children who play outside in the dirt on hot, dry days.

“This year, because of the drought persisting throughout the Western states, soils are much dryer, leading to an easier pathway of exposure to young children playing outside,” said Dr. Rangan.

“Older buildings with lead paint can also contribute to the build-up of lead in nearby urban garden dirt,” Dr. Rangan said. “Washing vegetables from the garden may help reduce exposure to surface lead. Teach children not to eat food from the garden without washing it first.”

Dr. Rangan suggests that some ways to prevent lead poisoning in children include good supervision, watching what they put into their mouths, having them wash their hands frequently and providing a diet with appropriate amounts of iron and calcium. Children who are undernourished may absorb more lead into their bodies than children with well-balanced diets.

Consumer lead testing kits can be found at most hardware stores and may be of use in detecting lead in the home.

10 tips for lead poisoning prevention

  1. Make sure your children do not chew on painted surfaces, such as toys or window sills.
  2. Report chipped or cracked paint to your landlord if you live in an older home built before 1978.
  3. Cover paint that is peeling or chipping with duct tape until it can be removed.
  4. Ask your doctor to test your young children for lead even if they seem healthy.
  5. Children's necklaces and bracelets, adult watches, as well as religious jewelry from Mexico, have been found to contain lead.
  6. Keys frequently have small amounts of lead in them – do not let babies play with or teethe on your keychain.
  7. Run the faucet for a few minutes before using cold water for cooking, drinking or preparing infant formula (this can help flush out the lead which can build up in sitting water), especially if the cold water hasn't been used in the past two hours.
  8. Avoid eating foods that are canned outside the United States.
  9. Traces of lead have been found in some candy and its packaging imported from Mexico containing chili or tamarind.
  10. Folk medicines (especially home remedies) imported from another country also contain lead. These include:
    1. pay-loo-ah (fever and rash treatment)
    2. azarcon (also called Maria Luisa, Liga, Alarzon, Greta, Coral and Rueda)
    3. Asian folk remedies, including Ghasard, Bali Goli and Kandu
    4. Middle Eastern folk remedies, including farouk and bint al zahab.