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The Worries Over Children and Lead

Where you might find lead, the harm it can do, and some ways to avoid it. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Lead poisoning is a danger especially to children under six years old. High levels of lead in their growing bodies can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, kidney disorders and other damage. Very high levels can be deadly.

Currently, ten micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is what federal health officials in the United States call a level of concern. Yet recent studies have suggested that children with less than that can still suffer harmful effects.

Lead is a metal found in nature. It can also be found in toys and other products painted with lead-based paint. Lead is also used in some ceramic and vinyl products, candles, hair colorings and other goods. And it can be found in soil and air pollution from factories, power stations and the use of leaded fuel.

Even in places where lead paint is banned, it may still exist in older housing. Young children may chew on lead-painted surfaces or breathe lead dust. Or babies might put pieces of old paint in their mouths.

Experts say children and pregnant women should not be present during renovation work in housing that might have lead paint.

Public health officials advise people to wash children's hands and toys regularly. Floors and other surfaces should be wet-cleaned every two to three weeks to remove dust that may contain lead.

To avoid lead from water pipes, use cold water to prepare food and drinks. Hot water is more likely to contain lead. Also, run the water for fifteen to thirty seconds before drinking it, especially if the water has not been used for a few hours.

The National Safety Council says a good diet can help children reduce the amount of lead that the body absorbs. This includes foods rich in iron, like eggs and beans, and foods high in calcium, like milk, cheese and yogurt. Zinc can also help the body fight lead absorption.

In nineteen seventy-eight the United States government banned the sale of lead-based paint for housing. It also banned lead-painted toys and other products meant for use by children.

Recently the Environmental Protection Agency proposed additional measures to protect children from contact with lead. Builders would have to be trained in lead safety when working not only in older homes, but also places like child-care centers and preschools.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.