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The Truth About Lead

Exposure to even small amounts of lead can be harmful for children, contributing to lower IQs and behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, states the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in an update of its guidelines. While the official threshold for lead poisoning that pediatricians use is still 10 mcg per deciliter, mounting evidence reveals that "there is no lead level that is safe for children," says Michael Shannon, M.D., chair of the AAP's committee on environmental health. Bottom line: Be vigilant about even "minor" sources. Just one peeling window from a house built before 1978 (when residential paint was required to be lead-free) can be a hazard.

If you suspect your home has lead, or you're planning a renovation (which can stir up paint dust), find a certified lead inspector in the Yellow Pages and have it checked out. Once you know where the mineral's lurking, you can cover it or keep your child away, until you can get the lead removed.

All kids under 5 should be tested annually for blood lead levels, says Dr. Shannon. If your child's been exposed  -- you find him with paint chips in his hand, for instance  -- ask your pediatrician to test him. If his level is even slightly elevated, inquire about ways to bring it down and, more important, how to prevent it from happening again.

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