How to Keep Your Kids Safe

How can parents and communities fight lead poisoning?

?Homes should be kept free from dust, particularly the areas easy for a child to reach. Floors, window sills and window wells should be cleaned often. Fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly. Children should be closely supervised to prevent them from eating paint chips.

They should also be watched at playgrounds, especially near major traffic areas, to ensure they don't put soil in their mouths.

?The best way to deal with lead in the soil is to plant grass, which anchors soil to the ground. Moscow lead experts say local playgrounds, which are often just sand and dirt, would be safer if they were planted with grass.

?To check for lead poisoning, have your child's blood tested between the ages of six months and 24 months. Blood can be drawn from a vein or obtained by a finger puncture.

?If the tests show moderately high levels of lead -- 10 to 20 micrograms per deciliter -- a second test is recommended, preferably a vein test, which is more accurate although more invasive. If levels remain high, parents should try to find the source of the poisoning and avoid it, or, if possible, remove it.

Nutrition should be optimized, with an increase in iron, thiamine and calcium. A lack of calcium, in particular, causes lead to be picked up more readily by the system. The parent should then ensure the child's hands are frequently washed and try to stop their child from thumbsucking. Close supervision of the child should continue. If all goes well, the lead level in the blood should drop.

?If a child has a blood-lead level of 20, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a complete medical evaluation, and if the level surpasses 45, the center calls for children to undergo a potentially dangerous treatment known as chelation therapy to remove the lead.

?When the average blood-lead level of children in any given community exceeds 10 micrograms per deciliter, the World Health Organization encourages preventive activities such as public education programs, lead removal and grassroots activism to force government action on the issue. Funding for scientific research is also essential.

Experts are emphatic that lead poisoning is preventable once a society makes a commitment to cope with the problem. "Get rid of the lead," said Dr. Herbert Needleman, an international authority on lead poisoning who works at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It's put there by man and man should get to gathering it up safely and putting it back deep in the earth where it belongs. The pay-off will be enormous."