You've almost certainly been exposed to lead
From lead-based paints that can be found in houses built before 1977, to tobacco smoke and the artificial turf on soccer fields, lead is in more products and places than you would imagine.
What's a person to do in a lead-contaminated world? For starters, it's especially important to limit exposure in children. Dr. Cohen urges parents to avoid giving their kids costume jewelry, and to buy toys made in the United States within the last five years under strict regulations, versus getting old hand-me-down toys out of the garage. “Though toys and jewelry are regulated in the United States, they aren’t regulated in other countries,” she adds. “This means lead can be found in things such as costume jewelry that you find at the dollar store as it is often manufactured outside of the country.”
“As adults go, we are most worried about pregnant women,” Olson stresses. “The lead can cross the placenta and then enter the developing fetus, ultimately affecting their brain.”
There are ways for you to decrease lead exposure
Luckily, you do have some control in this situation. Dr. Cohen explains that being proactive can happen through avoiding exposure which is the number one way to protect yourself.
In Flint, of course, people can only drink bottled water, and can’t improve the water supply coming out of their tap. Most people don’t experience exposure on that level, but you can make sure your house -- if built before 1977, when paint regulations changed -- is free of lead-based paint, engage in more frequent dusting, and buy a water filter that specifically eliminates lead. Dr. Cohen suggests visiting the Environmental Working Group for buying guides.
Olson emphasizes that while the costs of the Flint crisis are going to be astronomical, the human element is even more sobering. “Lead exposure is truly troubling to society and the cost in dollar and cents are enormous. However, the costs to families and kids are incalculable.”
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Ashley Lauretta is a freelance journalist and editor and is following Dr. Cohen's advice for ridding her home of lead. For updates on that process and more, follow her at @ashley_lauretta.