University of São Paulo: Lead poisoning affects one in three children worldwide, according to UNICEF

The rise in lead exposure worries public health professionals, who fear a potential silent pandemic. Contact with the metal, even in small concentrations, significantly affects the neurological development of children and can also harm the health of adults.

“The way in which this toxicity manifests itself in the body depends on factors such as age, dose, frequency of exposure, nutritional intake, genotype and other characteristics of the environment”, says Kelly Polido Kaneshiro Olympio, professor at the Faculty of Public Health (FSP) at USP is responsible for the project to create an educational website to inform children and their parents about the dangers of lead. According to the teacher, awareness is necessary due to the amount of everyday objects that can present metal in their composition: kitchen utensils, paints, toys in squares and playgrounds, makeup, jewelry and costume jewelry are some examples.

Kelly says that most children with detectable levels of lead in their blood do not have any visible or obvious symptoms, which makes it difficult to diagnose the disease and delay its subsequent treatment. In 2020, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a study reporting that metal intoxication, in addition to violating all the goals for sustainable development established by the institution, affects about 800 million children around the globe: equivalent to one third of the world’s child population.

“If you believe your child may have been exposed to lead, see a trusted doctor for a blood test. There are no safe levels of metal exposure in children,” she says. The period of body maturation experienced by children, as well as their low weight compared to adults, are risk factors for the presence of sequelae resulting from intoxication. “ Almost every system in the body can be damaged by lead exposure, and lead has been shown to affect the ability to pay attention, perform in school, and cause aggressive and antisocial behavior,” notes Kelly.

Primary prevention, that is, the adoption of measures prior to contamination, is pointed out by the teacher as the most effective strategy to combat the disease: “ The best way to protect our children is through the removal of all sources of lead in the environment” , says Kelly, who brings a list of recommendations to help parents and guardians with the task:

Keep an eye out for everyday objects such as toys, kitchen utensils, jewelry, and cosmetics. Give preference to those with quality certification and keep children away from peeling toys or toys of unknown origin. Always wash your hands, especially when playing outside, in squares or playgrounds, and remember to also wash bottles, pacifiers and toys before they take them to their mouths.

Prioritize quality meals, rich in iron and calcium: these nutrients protect children from lead.

Regularly clean floors, windows, doors and other surfaces using damp methods such as sponges or wet cloths to prevent dust scattering. Also, maintain the paint and plumbing where you live: very old houses may have metal pipes that pass lead to the water. If this is the case in your home, do not drink or cook with the first water that comes out of the tap in the morning. Use it only for cleaning activities. If you decide to renovate the place, avoid staying in the same environment as the work, especially in the case of pregnant women and children.

If the adult in the household works on productions or services that involve paint, pigments, batteries and solders, do not wash the clothes used at work together with the family’s clothes. Also do not enter the house with the shoes used at work. You can carry contaminants in your hair, shoes and clothes. If the work is informal, never do welding or chemical baths in closed environments, together with the family. Children must not come into contact with solder powders, tin wires and batteries. In addition, you must keep the environment very well ventilated and wear protective equipment, because your health is also important!

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