News Release

6/13/01

HDHHS urges precautions against lead poisoning risks

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and pregnant women stay away from their homes during flood repairs if they live in older houses containing lead-based paint.

The department also recommends that residents clean thoroughly all surfaces including counter tops, eating utensils, furniture and toys before returning to live in their homes to avoid contact with lead-contaminated dust and paint chips.

Renovation or remodeling – including repairs needed as a result of property damage from the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Allison – can disturb lead-based paint, banned since 1978 by the federal government.

Dust created by dry sanding paint poses the greatest risk because it could contaminate a home with lead.

A solution of household soap and water may be used to clean a home. It is recommended residents use a wet sponge or a mister to dampen and wipe down surfaces when cleaning. Residents must never dry sweep or dust lead-painted surfaces.

The most common source of lead indoors is a house’s trim work, including baseboards, windowsills and doors. Lead-based paint was rarely used on sheetrock. Most of the lead-based paint remaining in homes today is found on exteriors, which are less likely to need repair. Lead-painted woodwork removed by the board is less hazardous because it does not create large amounts of fine dust.

Elevated blood-lead levels in children, especially those 6 years of age and younger, can result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, mental retardation, speech and language handicaps and brain damage.

The longer children are exposed to lead, the greater the likelihood that they will sustain damage to the their health. Although particularly harmful to the developing brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children, lead can harm virtually every system in the human body. It can damage the kidneys, the nervous system and the reproductive system and cause high blood pressure.

The main treatment for lead poisoning is to stop the exposure. Removing the lead from a child’s environment helps to ensure a sustained decline in blood-lead levels.

Lead poisoning symptoms include headaches, irritability, anemia, weight loss, hyperactivity, poor attention span, muscle aches and abdominal pain. However, children usually do not show lead poisoning symptoms for several years.

The department offers free lead screenings to children between six months and 6 years of age at all its health centers. A blood lead test is the only method able to determine lead poisoning.

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