Testing for Lead Exposure

We live in a refurbished row home in Washington, DC.  Although it’s a lovely, charming old home and has been completely gutted we are paranoid that our son could be exposed to lead through soil, paint, or water.  We first had our son tested for lead when he was 10 months old at our pediatrician’s office.  The blood was drawn from his vein into a large vial.  My poor baby screamed and it was very difficult to get the amount of blood needed for the test (more on that in a moment).  The blood test came back negative!  We were of course happy but also wanted him tested again at around 16 months, lead exposure can happen at anytime and we want to be sure that the measures we take in our home and environment are keeping our son safe. 

A recent New York Times article entitled F.D.A. Warns of Faulty Lead Testing in Children and Mothers brought to my attention that blood lead tests taken after 2014 that used Magellan Diagnostics to analyze the blood may be faulty.  The concern is that the tests may have underestimated blood lead levels in tests done by drawing blood from the vein.  There are two ways blood can be drawn for lead tests 1) by pricking the finger or heel (capillary) or 2) drawing blood from the vein.  The tests drawn from the vein that used Magellan Diagnostics seem to be the ones that are providing faulty results.  Although the capillary tests are acceptable it is recommended that if the test shows signs of lead in the blood then the test should be followed up with a venous test.    

How to Read the Tests:

In Washington, DC the Department of Public Health considers lead levels under 5 microgram/deciliter (ug/dL) or 50 parts per billion (ppb) to be of less concern.  The CDC considers levels above 5 ug/dL an indication of unusual lead exposure that can cause adverse health effects.  My family considers any lead present in the blood concerning as there is no “safe” level of lead exposure.  We encourage families to periodically ask for blood lead testing to ensure that their child has not been exposed to lead.  If the pediatrician seems to indicate that there is no need for the test based off your answers to the lead test questionnaire, push back and insist as it is your prerogative as a parent/guardian to ensure that your child is living in a safe environment. 

Tips on How to Eliminate Lead Exposure:

--Ensure that no paint is chipping inside or outside your house, on your windows and sills, or in places where your child goes.  We recently had the outer part of our window sills repainted and sealed.  We also frequently wipe down the inside sills when the windows are open.

--Keep your floors clean!  Lead is present in our environment and soil, its easy to track dirt into the house and on the floors where little ones play.  We have a strict no outside shoes in the house policy.  We have hardwood floors that we clean with a water and vinegar mixture weekly.

--Our son does not drink tap water.  We have a filter on our fridge and use bottled water to cook his food and for him to drink.