700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Lead Poisoning: Still a Public Health Risk

Nov 15, 2023

For more than 100 years, society has known that lead is very damaging to young children. It is frustrating that we still expose our most vulnerable to this poison, especially because it is completely preventable.

Lead poisoning can cause:

  • Behavior issues
  • Academic problems
  • Delayed growth
  • Nervous system damage
  • Developmental delays

Making the diagnosis is easy; a simple blood test does that, but the treatment isn’t easy or simple. When families bring lead-poisoned children to me, they want a magic pill “to take the lead out.” While I do often prescribe a chelator (a medicine to grab lead that’s already inside the patient and carry it out in the urine), that’s just a small part of the treatment.

The bigger challenge is to find and stop the sources of exposure. That often means more handwashing, more housekeeping, and renovations on the home to eliminate lead paint or other lead sources. Sometimes it means temporary or permanent relocation.

Lead can sometimes be found in unlikely places, including:

  • Homes built before 1978
  • Toys and toy jewelry
  • Water pipes
  • Imported candy, cosmetics or spices

Lead exposure can mean public health (or even privately funded) investigations of homes, daycares, playgrounds, or other locations to find the sources of lead. Stopping lead exposures is very important, but it often takes a lot of work which can take weeks or months. That’s very frustrating to physicians like me and, especially, to the parents who expect a quick fix – not a prolonged and drastic lifestyle change.

Due to funding limits, many jurisdictions can no longer send public health inspectors to find the source of exposure for every lead-poisoned child and, increasingly, families have to hire their own private inspectors. Some families buy do-it-yourself lead test kits and try to do these inspections themselves. Until the sources are identified and the exposures stop, children keep getting more lead poisoning.

The worst frustrations come from making gradual but consistent improvements in a child’s blood lead levels but seeing no significant change in the child’s brain function, in the cases where dysfunction is already apparent. More than any of the above problems, this really shows the need to prevent lead poisoning before it happens.

Read more about risk factors, signs of lead poisoning, and more on Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Lead Poisoning Prevention and Lead Poisoning Treatment pages.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Marcel J. Casavant, MD
Central Ohio Poison Center

Marcel J. Casavant, MD, treats poisoned children at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and he’s a toxicologist at the Central Ohio Poison Center. He’s also an Emeritus Professor at The Ohio State University where he has taught Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology for more than thirty years.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.