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Lead Poisoning: Signs, Risks, and Prevention – S1 E8

As our babies and toddlers begin to explore their surroundings, they’ll put anything into their mouths. Many accessories, old furniture, and other objects could contain traces of lead, making it crucial that families protect their little ones against lead exposure.

On this episode, learn what household objects to keep out of reach from your children and how to identify the symptoms of lead poisoning. Host Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez visits with Ginny De La Cruz, the Program Manager of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Ginny explains the risks of lead poisoning and how you can create a safe household environment for your kids.

Podcast Resources:
Learn more about lead poisoning
High-risk areas in Arizona
Strong Families AZ
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

host Guest: Ginny De La Cruz is the Program Manager of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.


[00:00:00] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and program director for the maternal infant and early childhood home visiting program at the Arizona department of health services. On this podcast, we provide quick parenting tips for busy parents on the go. We’ll cover helpful topics for pregnant mothers, give resources for surviving the infant phase, give honest tidbits for handling [00:00:30] toddler years, and give you some peace of mind as you undertake this incredible parenting journey.

Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Parenting Brief. Today, we’re talking about something critically important that doesn’t usually get the attention that it needs and deserves. And that’s keeping your kids safe from lead poisoning. Most people think of lead-based paint when talking about lead [00:01:00] poisoning, and since that has been banned for use in the home, it gives some parents a false sense of security. When it comes to the risks of lead poisoning, children are at increased risk for exposure to lead, especially as our little one’s crawl around the house or play outside. Anything small is fair game to go straight into their mouths, including breathing in lead dust.

Little bodies are more vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning as it’s easily absorbed into the body. While that all sounds doom and gloom, today’s episode is much more helpful than that. We will [00:01:30] help you identify the things in your home that could potentially be lead-based, how to assess the risk of lead poisoning, and how to do what you do best, keeping your little ones safe.

Joining us on this episode to lend some helpful advice is Ginny De La Cruz. Ginny is the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Manager at the Arizona Department of Health Services, and she’s an expert in helping parents create safe home environments for their kiddos. Thank you so much for joining us today, Ginny..

[00:02:00] Ginny De La Cruz: [00:02:00] Thank you for having me, I’m excited to be here today.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:02:03] I’m going to start with what I think most people think about when talking about lead poisoning and that’s paint. Since lead-based paint was banned in the late 1970s, is lead-based paint in or on our homes even a concern that families need to consider anymore?

Is it possible that they could still have led-based paints?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:02:23] Yes, it is possible. And this is something that surprises a lot of parents when I talk to them, because like you mentioned, it [00:02:30] was banned in the 1970s, but we know that there are a lot of older homes, and those older homes can still have that lead-based paint.

So, you might want to consider having your paint checked if you have a home that was built before 1978. Sometimes we also can find lead-based paint on older or antique furniture. Also, antique toys. So, anything pre [00:03:00] 1970s could possibly have lead paint, not just in your home, but again, antique toys, antique furniture.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:03:06] How about newly built homes or even for those families living in a construction area, is there a lead concern there?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:03:14] There could be a lead concern if they’re living in a construction area, just because there are certain construction materials that can have lead in them. If it’s a newly built home, I wouldn’t be worried about lead-based [00:03:30] paint, but we know that lead can be found in the dirt, it’s naturally found in the dirt.

So, I’m more concerned about a family that’s possibly living in an industrial area. If there’s an industrial factory that releases lead, or if they’re living near a mine or a smelter, then that would be a concern that I would have.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:03:49] That kind of leads me into my next point, in talking about other things in or around our home that could potentially be lead-based and things that we should keep away from our little ones as they begin [00:04:00] crawling and entering that everything in my mouth stage, what are kiddos getting into that really increases their rate?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:04:07] So lead can be found in, like I mentioned some older antique toys or collectibles. We’ve also seen it from time to time in toys purchased in discount stores or purchased at a thrift store or at a swap meet. Again, those older toys possibly could have lead in them. You won’t really find it [00:04:30] in the newer toys thankfully that you buy at the store because due to manufacturing regulations most of the stuff that’s newly bought, thankfully we don’t have to worry about lead.

Sometimes we do see it in imported items. We work with a lot of families that have recently moved to the U.S. and they bring toys from their home countries, or they bring spices from their home country. I mean, who wouldn’t? I also when I travel back home want to bring some goodies from my home country, but sometimes because of regulations in these countries [00:05:00] aren’t as strict as the regulations in the U.S., we know that some commonly purchased items from abroad can have lead,

so that’s something to look out for. Also, we’ve seen lead in inexpensive jewelry or costume jewelry, so that’s a common toy that tends to have lead in it.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:05:17] Yeah, for sure. And I think even past that, everything in my mouth stage comes the dress-up stage of our toddlers so knowing that about the jewelry certainly makes a difference.

I know my kiddo [00:05:30] loves to wear my jewelry and always asks to dress up as well. How would we know, is there a way to test it or how do we know whether or not something that we have, or that our kids would be in contact with has lead in it?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:05:43] Yeah, so you can actually buy swabs. They’re called lead check swaps and they’re fairly inexpensive and you can buy them online, or I think Home Depot sells them.

So, if you are concerned and you believe you have an item in your home that could have lead in it. That’s one way to [00:06:00] see if there’s lead on that item. So, these swabs, they can only be used on hard surfaces. So that’s a limitation, only hard surfaces. You can’t use them on food. You can’t use them in water.

If you do have a concern regarding lead-based paint, or maybe you’re concerned about the plumbing in your home. Then you would need to hire a certified risk assessor. I know this can be a little more costly, but again, this would be like, if you’re concerned about the actual infrastructure of your home.

[00:06:30] Also, if you’re concerned about the water, although thankfully in Arizona, we usually don’t see lead in our water. That’s a really great thing. If you are concerned, then you can have your water tested at a private lab.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:06:43] So as parents are now listening and maybe thinking that their child could have been exposed to lead, are there signs and symptoms of lead poisoning?

Is it a sudden onset of symptoms or something that develops over time from exposure? What should parents be looking for?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:06:58] So, [00:07:00] unfortunately there’s usually no signs or symptoms, and this is why lead is often referred to as a silent poison. Sometimes children will have signs and symptoms, but that’s only because their levels are extremely, extremely high.

And if God forbid, they’re at a very high level, then some of the symptoms you would see are like headaches, maybe a stomachache. They might have nausea; they might be tired. And there’s a lot of things that cause these symptoms. So, it would be hard to know whether it’s lead poisoning just because that could [00:07:30] be a multitude of things.

The only way to know if your child has lead poisoning is through a blood test. So, we would recommend that young children, you know, visit their doctor and that they get tested for lead, especially the little ones, because that’s when they’re more at risk. So specifically, children under age six that’s when we recommend that they have a blood test, especially if they’re between 12 months and 24 months old.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:07:57] So if there’s no symptoms associated with [00:08:00] it, then what is the concern in having higher levels of lead?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:08:05] So there’s no initial symptoms with lead poisoning, but the concern is that it can target the nervous system and it can cause especially long-term exposure, it can cause like slow growth and development, it can cause speech and language and hearing problems.

It can cause behavioral problems, it can cause a lot of damage to not only the [00:08:30] nervous system, but also the, it can cause kidney damage. So again, there’s no initial symptoms but long-term, we know it can have detrimental effects. And that is our biggest concern with lead poisoning.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:08:42] So when you’re going to your provider and asking for a test to identify whether or not your little one has exposure to lead or higher levels of lead, what does that test really entail?

And what is your doctor looking for and how fast do those tests get turned around?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:08:59] So [00:09:00] there are actually two types of tests. There’s a capillary test and this one basically they just prick the finger. So, there’s that test. There’s the second test, and it’s actually the more preferred tests that we recommend because it’s a little more reliable than the capillary test,

it’s a blood venous draw. I know kiddos hate, hate those needles, but basically, it’s what you think of a simple blood test. It would need to draw some blood. And the reason that is the preferred test over the capillary [00:09:30] test, again, it’s slightly more reliable than the capillary test, but a lot of providers sometimes will do the capillary test at first, especially if they don’t think that this child is particularly at risk, because we know that it’s usually the less invasive test and preferred tests for the child. So, they’ll do that and if we see that it’s slightly elevated, they’ll follow up with the venous draw, just to confirm that result in, you know, make sure that child is at the reading that we’re concerned about. So those are the [00:10:00] two tests and usually with the capillary test, it’s pretty quick at same day.

And then with the venous draw, they have to send it off to the lab, but it usually doesn’t take that long, maybe two or three days.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:10:10] Great and then will their provider be the one that helps in offering some solutions or what to do in order to bring that level down, if there has been exposure or can you even bring that down once that lead exposure has happened?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:10:25] Yes. So, the good news is that [00:10:30] most of the time children won’t need any treatment unless treatment is only provided when it’s in an extremely high level. And thankfully, it’s really rare to see children at a very, very high level. So, for most children, they won’t need any treatment. We recommend that they eat a very well-balanced diet because.

Making sure that they’re meeting their nutritional needs because we know that if they’re eating a very well-balanced diet, especially high in vitamin C [00:11:00] iron and calcium, that’s really going to help remove the lead. Those vitamins are really crucial to removing lead from the bones. So. That’s a really good thing, you know, just making sure that they’re eating very well.

And then we work with providers to help the family identify the source of light in the home. So, I tell families, you know, the most important thing you need to do besides making sure your kid’s eating well is making sure you remove that source of life. Because as soon as you remove that source of lead, we’re going to see those [00:11:30] numbers go down significantly

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:11:32] For Arizona families how can they determine the lead risk for their little ones?

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:11:37] So they can go on our website, and we have a lead risk map in, you can type in your sup code into this map. And it’s going to tell you if you live in a high-risk sub code. So, if you live in a high risk of code, your doctor will likely routinely do.

A lead test at 12 and 24 months of [00:12:00] age, because that’s what we have for the Arizona screening guidelines. And then for families who don’t live in a high-risk zip code, we recommend that they complete our questionnaire. So, we have a questionnaire on our website. That can help you determine if your child is at risk for lead poisoning.

So, if you answer yes to any of those questions, it’s going to ask you, for example, you know, do you live in a house that’s pre-1978? Is there chipping paint in your home? Do you have imported pottery? So those sorts of questions. And if you answer yes to any of those, [00:12:30] then we would recommend that you talk to your provider and possibly get your child tested for lead.

But I do want to share our email. So, we have our program email is [email protected] so if parents have any questions or have concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to work with the community. We help families who have children with lead poisoning, but we’re really here to answer questions from anyone and to make [00:13:00] sure people are, are aware of this potential danger.

But again, our email [email protected], and I’m happy to talk to anybody if anybody has any follow-up questions, feel free to reach out.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:13:12] Great thank you so much Ginny for your time.

Ginny De La Cruz: [00:13:15] Thank you.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:13:23] Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of The Parenting Brief. Find out your family’s level of risk for lead [00:13:30] exposure by heading to the link in the show notes. And don’t forget, you can follow the parenting brief on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to your favorite shows. You can also share the show with the moms and your life.

A little parenting help can go a long way until next time. This is Jessica. You’ve got this, Mom.

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