The recent recall of licorice candy (here) for unsafe levels of lead is a good time to review this health hazard. Unfortunately, recalls of lead-tainted items too numerous to count. Many parents will remember the large 2010 recall of imported toys that contained lead-based paint.
Lead is a naturally ocurring element that was added to paint and gasoline in previous decades that was removed because of its harmful effects on the body. Lead can be ingested as paint chips or inhaled as the air-borne dust of deteriorating paint and as the exhaust of gasoline-powered engines where leaded gas is still legal. Children exposed to lead can have learning disabilities, lower intelligence levels, shorter attention spans and behavioral problems. The negative effects of lead have been detected at lower and lower blood levels making it difficult to consider any exposure safe.
Since leaded gasoline was eliminated in the US, the major lead exposure for children here continues to be lead-based paint. While the paint was outlawed in the 1970s, countless buildings and household items were painted (and repainted) with lead-based paint. Before renovating older homes or restoring older items like painted chairs and desks, educate yourself and take proper precautions. Your local public health department is an excellent resource for doing things safely and correctly.
Other sources of lead include cosmetics (check the Skin Deep Cosmetics database here), lead solder used in older plumbing, and the lead solder on imported cans of food. Hobbies like stained glass and restoring painted items, some ceramic glazes, lead crystal, and folk remedies can also lead to lead exposure.
To protect your child from lead:
Wash hands before eating.
Eat an iron and calcium-rich diet since these interfere with the body’s absorption of lead.
Have water in homes built before 1986 tested. Run the water cold before using it to drink or cook.
Wet mop areas with a high phosphate cleaner (TSP is one).
Test garden soil before planting and do not grow root crops (carrots, etc) in contaminated soil.
Avoid candles with lead wicks, pottery with lead glazes, lead crystal for storing or serving food, mini blinds made before 1996, some lipsticks and hair dyes.