Lead poisoning is a serious risk for children living in older homes with lead-based paint and in urban areas with high levels of air pollution. It can cause a lifetime of learning problems.
Fortunately, toxic levels of lead can be easily detected by a simple test but, amazingly, many parents refuse to have their children tested.
In New Jersey, about 50,000 children were not tested by the age of three, according to an annual state agency report despite a state law that requires doctors to test children before their second birthday.
The signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children may include:
- Developmental delay;
- Learning difficulties;
- Loss of appetite;
- Weight loss;
- Sluggishness and fatigue;
- Abdominal pain;
- Constipation; and
- Hearing loss
In New Jersey and many other states, doctors are not obligated to notify a child's school when lead poisoning is found. That creates a serious gap since affected children may need special education or other services.
"We have to do a better job" addressing lead poisoning," said Jay S. Schneider, a pathology professor and lead poisoning expert at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "We have to recognize that this is still a big problem. There are lots of kids who are being adversely affected by this, who are having their futures taken away from them. It's just an awful thing and it's unnecessary and people are suffering and they shouldn't be."
Every year, more than 5,000 primarily low-income, mostly minority children in New Jersey are found to have high levels of lead. And thousands of lead-poisoned children attend public schools. Lead poisoning is New Jersey's top environmental health threat for children.
A bill in the state legislature would require that information on children's elevated lead levels be given to public schools when students enroll.