Advice for parents of children with elevated blood lead levels

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⇒ RELATED STORY: Mapping the history of Lead Contamination in the Granite State

What can a parent do once a child has been diagnosed with elevated blood levels of lead?

Experts say a number of things may help – and the solutions are not always medical.

Dr. Alan Woolf, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, director of the Program of Environmental Medicine and an expert on lead poisoning, says many pediatricians and nurse practitioners will start a child on iron drops, to discourage the body from absorbing lead.

“But our solution for most kids is diet,” Woolf says. “Maximize dietary sources of iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. Parents need to have the child wash hands frequently to remove dust, and give the dietary supplements we recommend for the child.”

Early educational intervention may also help, he says, especially with children under 3 who are having problems with language or speech.

“We think very strongly that some of the toxic effects of lead can be reversed or blunted by parents reading to their child every night, by parents stimulating their children’s curiosity, by early intervention programs, by Head Start programs,” he adds. “We think all of those are effective modalities.”

Common-sense household practices like dusting or damp-mopping window sills and counters, and covering holes or alligatored paint are also recommended. “Get your home inspected and see where the hot spots are,” Woolf suggests. “Ask the Department of Health about certified lead inspectors and get a certified lead remover. Don’t do it yourself. The child shouldn’t return home until it’s certified.”

For severe cases, a medical solution called chelation – giving an oral medication that binds with the lead so that it’s excreted in the urine – may also be used. “But these chelates are not a walk in the park,” Woolf cautions. “They taste bad, they smell bad and they have severe side effects.” For that reason, “we reserve chelation for those few kids with moderate to severe levels,” he says. 

Former Littleton resident Heidi Leno, whose 13-year-old son Matthew has severe developmental disabilities that she attributes to lead exposure, also has suggestions for parents – being aware of the age of the building where you live or intend to live, for one. Most buildings in the United States built before 1978 are likely to have at least some lead-based paint, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

She recommends communicating with landlords and getting documentation that specifies whether or not the building has lead paint – and being alert to any behavioral differences in the youngsters living there.

”Watch your children,” she says. “Watch for signs.”

This story is part of The Environmental Justice series. Produced in partnership with the NH Bar News and the Granite State News Collaborative, this ongoing series examines both the impacts of environmental change on vulnerable communities in New Hampshire and potential solutions. To download any of the data used in these articles visit our

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