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On the lookout for lead

  • Items known to contain lead are readily available for sale to consumers in the Imperial Valley and Mexico. JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH PHOTO

Staff Writer

"Wash your hands!"

It's an admonition we've all heard countless times growing up and usually we heard it from mom.

Turns out that mom's mantra is pretty sound advice — even when it comes to lead poisoning.

Cheryl Turner, coordinator of the Childhood Lead Poison Prevention program run by Imperial County Public Health Services says it's one of a number of simple precautions we can take to ensure our children won't fall prey to the dangers of lead.

According to information released by the California Public Health Institute, lead poisoning is the "most widely recognized preventable environmental disease in children."

In 1999 there were 852 reported cases of lead poisoning in children reported in California but estimates put the actual number of cases at well beyond that figure — perhaps three to four times that number.


"Children are being exposed to lead poisoning — and being poisoned by it," Turner says.

"By simply making sure your children wash their hands with soap and water frequently and eat a well-balanced diet high in calcium and iron … that will help a lot," is Turner's advice.

So what should parents look for in their home environment that can cause lead poisoning?

Turner's answer is, "Paint chips, even though Imperial County has a lot of new home building going on, those homes are being built on land where old houses were at and those paint chips are still in the ground."

Paints manufactured prior to 1978 in the United States all contained lead.

Turner suggests new homeowners plant a lawn as soon as possible after moving in and in a further effort to stop young children from coming into contact with contaminants in the ground, she strongly recommends providing kids with a sandbox to play in.

Having clearly nixed that favorite of childhood pastimes — making mud pies, Turner moves on to the family Fido and Fluffy.

"If you have pets, keep them outside if they've been rolling around in the dirt until you can clean them off, otherwise they'll just bring that dirt into the house."

And there's danger lurking inside our homes as well, Turner says as she holds up an attractive oriental-themed blue vase.

"These vases are available locally and they're very cheap and make great decorator items — but they contain lead."

Moving on to the kitchen, there's one thing Mom was wrong about — those wonderful clay bean pots with the highly glazed surface, those same pots some people swear by for cooking a superior batch of beans.

"There's no problem with the pottery itself," Turner says, "it's the glaze that contains the lead."

And if all of that is enough to give you a headache, don't reach for a home remedy for that headache just yet. Turner advises that many home remedy powders available across the border in Mexico contain lead.

By now you're probably reaching for some comfort food in the shape of that delicious candy in the little clay pots that also comes from Mexico, right?

That's another no-no, according to Turner. The lead this time is hiding in the wrapper initially but leaches into the pot over time and although the manufacturer of the candies is now using a lead-free wrapper, Turner is worried about "older" stocks still on store shelves.

When it comes to a parent action plan on the subject of lead poisoning, Turner has a mantra all her own, and that is, "Have your children tested for lead levels — because children with lead poisoning don't look sick."

"In our lead program any child in a federal program is mandated at the age of 1 and also again at the age of 2 to be tested for lead levels."

Turner went on to say that a child who has missed either of these testing milestones can be tested one time between the ages of 2 and 6 under those programs.

For those with private health insurance, the cost of the test is relatively inexpensive and most insurance plans will cover the cost.

The test itself is a simple finger-stick procedure and Turner encourages all parents to ask their child's pediatrician about lead testing.

County Public Health Services at 935 Broadway in El Centro has a large number of brochures, in Spanish and in English, that can better help you "lead-proof" your home or you can call the Child Care Healthline at (800) 333-3212.

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>>Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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