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For those new to the Lead Safe Mama website:
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (two of her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005).
- Tamara owns and runs Lead Safe Mama, LLC — a community collaborative woman-owned small business for childhood Lead poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety.
- Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF technology (a scientific testing method) using the exact instrumentation employed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic).
- Since July of 2022, the work of Lead Safe Mama, LLC has been responsible for 5 product recalls (FDA and CPSC).
- All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable.
- Items that Lead Safe Mama, LLC reports on are tested multiple times to confirm the results published (for each component tested).
- Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February 2023 (March 2023 print edition) and The Guardian in November 2023.
The advice below encompasses several different concerns, including:
- Direct exposure to a significant amount of fireworks smoke and fumes
- A fire in a Lead painted home near your home (including “practice burns” conducted by the local fire department)
- Demolition of a house near your home
- Sanding or burning (heat removal) of paint on a house near your home
A mama called me because she was worried her baby inhaled toxic fumes from fireworks.
#1.) First: Don’t worry
#2.) Next, take action. Reasonable actions in a circumstance like this could include:
- Getting a blood Lead test (BLL) after a suspected exposure is not hard to do! Testing (especially if your child has not been tested recently) will give you peace of mind and will definitively rule out exposure concerns. It will also give you a baseline BLL to help you evaluate things if there is a potential future exposure concern (more details on this in sections 4, 5 & 6 below*).
- Increasing garlic in the kiddo’s diet can help (as it is a scientifically proven natural chelator for Lead — you can read more about the here). Roasted garlic on toast? Garlic in green juice? Garlic on pizza? Raw garlic (if your kiddos like that)?… Just whatever they like!
- Dosing your kids up on some green juice for a couple of days (green juice, green smoothies — whatever they will take!). My kids like lemon-heavy celery juice with cucumbers, garlic, and other greens. (Always get organic if you can.)
- Avoid watching any fireworks displays from close proximity in the future. A general rule of thumb: if you can smell fumes/smoke, you are not in a good location!
All of this is easy to do.
#3.) Think WWTD (What Would Tamara Do?)
- Tamara lets her kids watch community (in our case, city-sponsored) fireworks — from afar (where we cannot smell fumes).
- Tamara does not let her kids use personal fireworks (with rare exceptions).
- Exceptions: Charlie (our youngest) is particularly drawn to Fireworks. When it is legal (if we are in a legal state or it is a legal time of year) we may purchase some personal fireworks for him, but we carefully supervise and control how they are used. When they are lit we make sure he stands at a safe distance and that they are lit by an adult. We never let the kids use sparklers.
- Tamara does not let the kids hang out with the 4th of July “Rambo crowd” of folks (unsupervised), which includes people who insist on setting off banks of fireworks in the streets and inhaling clouds of toxic smoke and fumes for hours(!) on July 4th. This is the most challenging thing in our neighborhood as we have a bluff within walking distance of our home and each year the kids flock to that bluff to watch the city fireworks. While we wait for the city fireworks to begin, handfuls of dads (it’s almost always the fathers) light off personal fireworks on the bluff far too close to the children present. (We really try to avoid that crowd!)
- In addition to watching fireworks from a distance, Tamara takes her sons star gazing in dark sky preserves (such as to see meteor showers in the Columbia Gorge — when they happen each year) as an exciting, safer, and healthier (more educational) alternative.
- Most importantly: Tamara doesn’t worry about a potential single (non-chronic, non-household) incidental exposure and doesn’t get them tested if they just happen to accidentally walk past some fireworks (or a home demolition) at close proximity unexpectedly. (Instead, I rely on annual testing whenever possible, but if I have concerns for suspected significant incidental exposure — like with the recent work on our home when the roof leaked — I get them tested.) If there is a house fire near our home, however, I normally do take the kids away for a day or two if at all possible, so they don’t breathe the smoke.
#4.) *Follow-up question: Should I get a blood test for my kid just to be sure?
#5.) Some general guidelines about when/how often to get a BLL test for your kiddo:
- First and foremost, talk to your doctor, but also do your own research about the potential risks of various types of incidental acute and chronic exposure.
- I always recommend babies get a baseline BLL test (during one of their regular checkups) once BEFORE they start to crawl (at about 5-6-7 months old) and once again after they start crawling (at about 10-11-12 months old). Having those tests as a baseline for any child will help parents find out if there is potential chronic Lead exposure from air or house dust and will give parents a level for comparison if there is a suspected exposure at some point in the future.
- Annual testing is a reasonable interval even if you don’t live in a Lead painted house or an older house that is being renovated. I recommend annual BLL testing through the teen years (per the advice of the late/great Dr. John Rosen, former Director of Montefiore Medical Center’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program).
- If you do live in a Lead painted house (pre-1978 in the United States) you need to evaluate the house so you can determine the risks of living there and test your children accordingly based on potential risks. To do this you need to find a Certified Hazard Assessor and ask for a Hazard Assessment of your home.
- If you are renovating any part of your pre-1978 home, it is normally a good idea to get a baseline BLL for yourself and your children before you begin renovations (always moving out/ keeping children away from the home during renovations) and then get a follow-up BLL test after you move back into the house (but please only move back into the home once it has passed clearance testing after renovations are completed).
- If you live in a Lead painted home (or have other potential chronic/persistent risk factors like recreational shooters or hunters who live in the home with your children), six-month intervals for BLL testing for children up to 6 years old is not necessarily “too often” (depending on potential risks identified in the home or changes in your child’s home or school environment).
- More frequent testing may be warranted if a child has been poisoned (if they have a confirmed elevated blood lead level). After my children were acutely poisoned we tested them every 3 to 5 weeks so we could monitor their progress and make sure their blood Lead levels were going down. Once their levels came down we switched to annual testing.
- If your child has not been tested in a year it is always a good idea to get them tested again, and if it takes a potential fireworks exposure to prompt that, great.
- Knowing your child’s blood Lead level is an important data point. Hopefully, they will test “negative” in response to a Blood Lead Level test after a suspected short-term/one-time incidental exposure like fireworks smoke.
- Other examples similar to potential fireworks fumes exposure (that might be a reasonable prompt for a BLL test if your kiddo has not had one in a while) could include:
- standing and watching a home or building demolition (from across the street for example — as you often see young children doing with their parents) or…
- being present for a short time when someone nearby is dry-sanding/power-sanding their older home, or…
- a house fire (or practice burn) in the neighborhood (close to your home) might also present a similar reason to be concerned.
Note: whenever my children notice a demolition or someone sanding (or other unsafe work practices on an older home), they know to walk the other way (go around the block) or at least walk to the other side of the street to quickly pass the area if that is the only option.
#6.) Some additional info about blood Lead testing & symptoms
- For some background, read these two posts:
- Here’s the overview post about Lead testing.
- Here’s my overview post about symptoms.
- Please know that the most common short-term symptom of childhood Lead exposure is “no symptoms at all” (Lead exposure symptoms commonly manifest long-term, in the form of interruptions of major biological systems: increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of arthritis, increased risk of kidney disease, fertility/ birth complications, and neuro-cognitive impacts like ADHD, frontal lobe development impacts and more). Gastrointestinal distress and headaches are also common short-term symptoms of acute or chronic Lead exposure but are not always present and you cannot rely on symptoms to help determine if a person has had a recent exposure.
Use your judgment — follow your instincts. You are a good parent, and making good decisions — or you wouldn’t be thinking about these concerns.
Hopefully, this is helpful. The main takeaway is please don’t WORRY about something that happened “in the past” — you can never change the past. Even when my children were acutely Lead poisoned (as babies) and very very sick… I didn’t WORRY… I instead took action to fix the situation, to learn as much as possible, and to try to help them recover from their exposure (giving them tools to grow and thrive in spite of their exposure).