Working with old or recycled electronics may increase your children’s risk for lead poisoning, an expert warns.
Lead poisoning in two Ohio toddlers was traced back to their father, who worked at an e-scrap recycling company, said one Cincinnati pediatrician. The dad’s job involved crushing cathode ray tubes made from leaded glass. These tubes are a common component of older televisions and computer monitors.
The children, aged 1 and 2, were victims of “take-home” lead exposure, Dr. Nick Newman, director of the Environmental Health and Lead Clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said in a hospital news release.
Take-home exposure occurs when toxins from the workplace are carried out on employees’ skin, hair, shoes, clothing or other items.
The father worked without protective equipment, and often had visible dust in his hair. The family reported that the children often touched his hair while playing with their dad. Routine screening revealed that the children’s blood levels were well above the 5 micrograms per deciliter threshold for lead poisoning treatment, according to a recent Morbidity and Mortality Report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Newman is a co-author of that report.
Lead affects the developing nervous system. Lead poisoning can lead to hyperactivity, attention problems, behavior problems and learning difficulties. Most children are exposed to lead through paint made before 1979, but at least 30 percent of elevated blood lead levels are the result of other exposures, according to the news release.
In response to the children’s lead exposure, their father left his job. Within three months, the siblings’ lead blood levels dropped significantly, although they were still higher than desired.
The disposal and recycling of electronic devices — a relatively new endeavor — has increased exposure to lead and other neurotoxins, creating “an emerging health concern,” said Newman in the release.
Parents who work with toxic elements can take steps to avoid exposing their family to these chemicals, Newman said. He recommends:
- Change clothes and shoes before going home. Wash work clothes at work, not at home.
- Store extra clothes in a separate area of the workplace where they will not be contaminated.
- Shower before leaving work.
- Do not remove toxic or contaminated substances from the workplace.
“Pediatricians should ask about parents’ occupations and hobbies,” added Newman. “Not only is this a conversation starter with the family, but it also is an opportunity to perform primary prevention activities to avoid take-home exposures of lead, other metals and toxicants that may be present at work.”
Pediatricians with questions about the risks involved in parents’ jobs can find answers through the national Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Network, he added.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on lead poisoning.
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