I became very emotional when I first learned that my kid had elevated levels of lead in their blood. After talking with the Lead Prevention Nurse at our County Public Health Department, I am now a bit calmer knowing that, while their level of 12.3 is high, it is not dangerously high. It certainly needs to come down, but since it was caught early enough, we can stop and reverse lead’s potential health effects. Unchecked, it could have gotten dangerously high without us ever knowing.

Christina and her toddler, who is covering their face with their hand

Online research into the subject has been very frustrating. I do web research for a living, so I know how to generally find what I want. But searching for [elevated lead level treatment] or just [elevated lead toddler] was infuriating. Even adding the word treatment into my search, most of the documents from the CDC, state governments, and trusted health websites like WebMD all focused on preventing lead poisoning in the first place. Not how to treat your child once lead is in their system.

They also seemed to assume that, if your child has high levels of lead in their blood, you must be a lower income family, living in an old house, where you let your kid sit and eat old paint chips all day long. I doubt this is the case for even those families who do live in older houses and may not have a lot of money. But I felt that the tone of most of the “helpful” articles was very patronizing.

I hope that sharing what I’ve learned can help others to find the information they need without having to weed through the prerequisite “old house” stuff. (Note: I do realize that older houses are a danger with old paint and paint dust adding more lead into the environment, but for those of us living in houses that were built after 1978, the cause isn’t always as obvious.)

Finding out your child has lead in his blood

In New York State, it is mandatory for all children to be tested for lead at the age of two. I am very grateful for this, as we never would have known that our kid was being slowly poisoned. We don’t live in an old house. Our house was built in the 1980s. Lead paint had already been outlawed, so where did the lead come from?

Because you just never know, you should find out whether or not your pediatrician will test your child for lead. If it’s not mandatory in your state, you may have to make a special request. Living in a newer house does not make your child immune to the dangers of lead exposure.

So where did the lead come from?

When trying to find the likely culprit, my first instinct was our kid’s toys. Many parents think that spending the money to buy name brand toys like Fisher Price means they will be safer, but the string of recent recalls shows the fault in that thinking. And just because none of their toys matched any of the previously announced recalls doesn’t mean that they won’t be targeted in a new wave of recalls in one month or on year.

The Lead Prevention Nurse did tell me never to buy toys from the dollar store, or any of those toys in the machines at the grocery store where you put in a quarter or two, turn the knob, and out pops a toy in a plastic bubble. The toy jewelry and such is made so cheaply that lead paint may certainly have been used.

But the main culprit was something I didn’t even consider until I sat down with my husband to figure out what had changed since our kid’s normal lead level at one year old and their high lead level at two years old.

Our water filter had broken.

When our kid was an infant, we had a Brita water filter hooked onto our kitchen faucet. It broke seven or eight months ago, and we never got around to replacing it. We picked up a water test kit from Lowes, and sure enough, the test showed that our water has lead in it. So we picked up a Pur water filter and installed it on our kitchen faucet. That should take care of the problem.

But why does our water have lead in it? After a few calls to our Homeowners Association and the local water department, we determined a few things. The water supply is not contaminated with lead; they test it often, and the lead levels are well within acceptable limits. The pipes that bring the water through our neighborhood and into our home are not lead pipes; lead pipes had already been banned by 1985.

With a little research, though, I found that the lead solder used to weld the pipes together was not banned until 1988, so it’s likely that lead is seeping into our water from the solder in the pipes. Short of replacing all of the pipes in our home as well as all of the buried pipes in our neighborhood, a water filter that can filter lead is the best solution. The important lesson here is that you have to test your own water, even if you get a water quality report from your local water authority that says the water does not contain lead. The pipes (or the solder) could still contaminate your family’s drinking water.

Treatment once your child’s blood tests show an elevated lead level

The doctors and local health department will have more detailed information than I can provide here, as I am not a medical expert. And if your child’s lead level is at a dangerous level, you should certainly ask your doctor for everything you can do to help him. But if your child’s lead level is not so high as to require special treatment and intervention, these are the things that were recommended to me.

Wash your child’s hands every time you hand them food.

Most of us parents are good about washing our children’s hands before meals, but not as good about washing them every time we hand them a cracker or another snack. I was told to wash my kid’s hands every time they eat anything. Lead is in the environment, and kids put their hands everywhere. Because we don’t know which surfaces, which toys may be contaminated, the safest thing to do is to wash their hands before their hands end up in their mouths. I’ve found that baby wipes work well for a quick wash before snacks, but it’s going to take a lot of getting used to.

Eliminate all sources of contamination.

This one seems rather obvious, but isn’t always obvious how to do it. If you or someone else in your household works in an industry involving lead paint, make sure everyone takes their shoes off at the door to prevent lead dust from being tracked in off their shoes. Test your water for lead, and use a water filter. Always check all of the latest recalls on toys and jewelry, and make sure you go through every item that’s been recalled to make sure you don’t own any of it. Don’t buy cheap toys from dollar stores and vending machines. Don’t use painted ceramic dishes, especially imported ones, which may be coated with lead paint. Talk to your doctor about and folk remedies or alternative medicines you may use, as they may contain lead. Ask your doctor or local public health department for more possible sources of lead contamination.

Make sure your child gets plenty of calcium, iron, and fiber in his diet.

Iron and calcium are important nutrients that prevent the absorption of lead into the body in the first place. Fiber, I can guess, helps eliminate everything. The pharmacist told me that the liquid iron supplements taste like blood, and most kids won’t take them because you can’t even disguise the taste. We decided to try some chewable multivitamins with iron. Our kid loves their milk and is sure to get enough calcium, but the iron is a little trickier with their pickiness.

I’m trying to buy everything I can in the “more fortified” version. Most breakfast cereals are packed with nutrients. Many juices are fortified with extra calcium and vitamins. Cookies and crackers are now coming in 100% whole grain varieties for more fiber, and some are fortified with extra vitamins. If your family doesn’t like most whole grain bread, you can find a whole wheat white bread, which is made with whole grain but looks and tastes just like regular white bread. Reading and comparing labels in the grocery store will help you find the products that will do more for your kids even when they’re snacking.

But first things first

You won’t know if any of this is necessary unless you have your child tested for lead. Talk to your pediatrician about having your child tested today.

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