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Look out for lead

Posted 6/13/2016 by APARNA BOLE, MD
General Pediatrician, Medical Director of Community Integration, UH Rainbow Babies & Children's
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Aparna Bole, MD

Aparna Bole, MD

If you live in an older house or apartment, you might have a big problem on your hands that you have not realized: lead.

Lead is highly toxic. Lead poisoning can cause coma and death. It is especially dangerous to young children and infants. Even low levels can affect a child’s brain and nervous system development. This can cause learning disabilities, lower IQ and behavior problems.

Sadly, lead poisoning is very common. In fact, Cleveland ranks sixth among U.S. cities with the highest levels of lead poisoning in children. In 2014 alone, more than 3,000 children in Cuyahoga County tested positive for lead levels above 5 mcg/dl, experts’ current level of concern. The scariest part about lead poisoning? It causes no obvious symptoms. So often, parents don’t know and don’t seek treatment for kids.

Look out for lead

Sources of lead

Although lead paint is banned today, most houses built before 1978 used it. When paint in older homes begins to peel, it leaves contaminated paint chips and dust. Young children can eat paint chips or put something in their mouths that touched lead-contaminated dust.

Safety and prevention tips

Aparna Bole, MD, general pediatrician and Medical Director of Community Integration at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s, offers the following tips to families who live in homes built before 1978:

  • Keep kids away from peeling paint.
  • Remove shoes before entering the house.
  • Wash your child’s hands and toys often.
  • Wash windowsills and other flat surfaces every two to three weeks.
  • Regularly mop and vacuum floors.
  • Ensure kids stay away from bare soil when playing outdoors.
  • Use cold tap water to prepare food and drinks – if needed, heat it in the microwave or on the stove.
  • Discuss lead testing with your pediatrician at your child’s next checkup, especially if you live in an older home.

“Regular checkups are important for assessing a child’s risk for lead exposure and detecting lead poisoning. Routine screening for elevated lead levels in the blood is recommended for young children living in many Northeast Ohio communities,” says Dr. Bole. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends regularly screening for lead exposure in early childhood.”

Another way to fight lead poisoning? A healthy diet. Eating a diet rich in calcium (found in dairy products), vitamin C (found in citrus fruits) and iron (found in lean red meats and beans) helps to decrease lead absorption in the body.

Protect your home and family

If you think your family is at risk for lead poisoning, call the City of Cleveland’s Lead Safe Living hotline at 216-263-LEAD (216-263-5323). The program can assist with testing and removing lead from your home. If you rent, your landlord is required by Ohio law to let you know if any lead-based paint was used in the home. If you suspect that lead-based paint was used on the property and you were not notified, call the number listed above.

Questions about lead exposure? Go to or call 216-844-LEAD (216-844-5323).


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