Lead poisoning risk for children increasing due to COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It has been 50 years since lead was banned from gasoline and more than 40 since it was banned from paint.

Those bans have helped lower the rate of lead poisoning in children, but it remains a serious problem. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic could be putting more children at risk

A Triangle scientist on the front lines of the continuing war against lead likes to talk about the progress.

"There is now a statewide rule that requires all licensed childcare centers to test for lead in their drinking and cooking water," said Jenny Hoponick Redmon an environmental health scientist at Research Triangle Institute.

She is one of the researchers and child advocates behind that that rule.

Hoponick Redmon explained that lead finds its way into our water by sitting in pipes that have lead solder or in faucets and fixtures that contain lead.

The longer that water sits in pipes and faucets without taps being turned on, the more lead it absorbs.

This is where COVID-19 comes into play. The virus has forced many daycares to close down; meaning water could be sitting in the pipes for longer than usual.

That's why Hoponick Redmon is urging caution when daycares reopen.

"Please make sure you flush all of the pipes in your building by opening up all the taps and letting the water run, so you get all of that old stagnated water out of the building and you can reduce the likelihood that children will get an elevated lead exposure on their first day back," Hoponick Redmon said.

Lead poisoning is near and dear to the heart of Michael Smith of Durham.

"My son just started daycare, and I think it's a great idea for them to do that."

Smith's son, two-year-old Greyson, is his first child.

"I would put my life at risk for my son. I love him to death," he said.

Smith works for a non-profit that advocates for child health, so he knows all about lead poisoning.

"Some kids can get ADHD from it. That's a main concern or behavior problems," he said. "But they don't find out until it's really too late, if you don't get kids checked at an early age."

So Smith is happy there's a daycare testing program called Clean Water for Carolina Kids is in place.

The program even has an interactive map so you can see if your kid's daycare has been tested.

This year the model program won a major award from Harvard University for improving environmental health.

But despite all the advancements in the battle against lead poisoning, Hoponick Redmon cautions that parents still need to be vigilant.

"You want your child tested at their one-year well visit and their two-year well visit. And if there are issues you can continue to have them tested," she said.

If you want to try to eliminate the possibility of lead in the water at your home, the Research Triangle Institute has posted this research on water filters that are effective at capturing lead.

In the meantime, don't forget to flush your taps if you haven't used them for a while.
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