Living in a house undergoing renovation, drinking juice from a ceramic mug, or playing with dirt in the park can place a child at risk for lead poisoning, according to a pediatrician at New York University Medical Center.

"Although the incidence of elevated lead levels is highest among children of low-income families living in urban areas, no economic or geographic group is without risk," said Margaret Karpatkin, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the Medical Center.Karpatkin recommended that all young children have annual blood tests for lead exposure. In addition, she urged testing if a child becomes hyperactive or irritable in the absence of other illness, or if he or she has unexplained convulsions.

"While many environmental sources of lead have been reduced in the past 20 years, millions of American children - as many as 15 percent of preschool children - have potentially dangerous blood lead levels," she asserted. The Centers for Disease Control has set 24 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood as the maximum safe level.> An article in an upcoming issue of the New York University Medical Center Health Letter explains that when lead, a heavy metal, is ingested or inhaled as fine dust, it accumulates in the body and inhibits certain enzyme activities. Infants and children under 6 are most vulnerable to damage from even small blood levels of lead.> At its worst, lead poisoning can cause neurological and kidney disorders, or death due to brain damage. In children, small amounts of lead can cause hyperactivity, learning and behavior disorders, impaired hearing and delayed mental development.> "The most common way in which toddlers are exposed to lead is by playing with or eating paint made before 1950 that has chipped off walls," Karpatkin observed.> "Another route is playing with soil or dust, then putting their hands in their mouths.">