Cincinnati—Environmental health experts say preventing the life-long health effects of childhood poisoning starts by creating an overall healthy home environment that promotes well-being and is free of potentially harmful substances.
“Research and public awareness campaigns have put lead at the forefront when people think of childhood poisoning,” says Bill Menrath, a senior environmental health research associate at UC. “But creating a truly healthy house requires a holistic approach that addresses and eradicates the things that threaten the health and well-being of everyone living in the home.”
Menrath believes in the seven easy-to-remember principles suggested by the National Center for Healthy Housing for preventing disease and creating a healthy living space.
These simple guidelines include:
- Keep it dry
- Keep it clean
- Keep it pest-free
- Keep it ventilated
- Keep it safe
- Avoid contaminants, and
- Maintain the house
By practicing these principles, says Menrath, homeowners will naturally eliminate some of the most common hazards, pollutants and contaminants people are exposed to in the home.
But researchers caution that a combination of factors—including a natural curiosity to explore their environment—still puts children at an increased risk for poisoning from household items. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2.2 million cases of poisoning were reported in 2000, and more than 52 percent of them involved children under 6.
“We all know that young children tend to put things in their mouths that shouldn’t be there,” says Sandy Roda, an environmental health research associate at UC. “But children also have faster rates of metabolism than adults and aren’t equipped physically to handle toxic chemicals. The effects of harmful substances like lead are magnified because their bodies and minds are still growing.”
Environmental health experts offer the following tips for preventing common childhood poisonings:
- Remove lead-based paint hazards: If your home was built before 1978, any chipping or peeling paint should be tested for lead content. Contrary to popular belief, most children are poisoned by ingesting lead dust, not paint chips. Over time, paint chips break down into microscopic particles and combine with common household dust. Children are usually exposed when they play with their toys or feeding bottles on surfaces with lead dust on them.
Home lead-testing kits can be purchased from UC’s environmental health department for about $19 by calling (513) 558-0523. Each kit includes information on potential sources of lead and supplies for collecting paint, dust and soil samples for testing. Samples are sent to the Hematology and Environmental Laboratory at UC for professional analysis.
- Beware of lead in foreign toys: Avoid buying your kids the cheap trinket toys and jewelry commonly sold in vending machines at grocery and department stores. Last year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 150 million pieces of foreign-made trinket jewelry because they contained unsafe levels of lead that could easily be passed to children if the items were chewed or swallowed. At least one child has died in the past year from swallowing one of these trinkets.
- Keep medications out of reach: Iron-containing medicines and vitamin supplements can cause irreversible liver damage in small children. The adage “out of sight, out of mind” applies here, so avoid taking medication in front of children (they may want to imitate your behavior) and store it in a safe place. Decongestants, antidepressants, blood pressure pills, iron supplements, diet pills and other stimulants are especially dangerous to young children.
- Dispose of hazardous liquids: People have the bad habit of keeping rarely used items like kerosene and paint thinners around. These substances can be highly toxic to both adults and children when accidentally ingested.
Hamilton County Environmental Services offers free household hazardous waste removal for its residents every spring. This year, collections begin on Saturday, March 17. For more information, call (513) 946-7700 or visit www.hcdoes.org.
If you suspect your child has been poisoned, call the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222. For more information on home poisoning risks, visit www.cdc.gov.