ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – A service member’s home should be their “safe place” – a place to relax and enjoy time with their family. Accidents happen every day, and children are the most vulnerable to housing hazards or unsafe circumstances. Parents should be aware of the potential hazards and protect their family by removing the hazards, locking or blocking child exposures to the hazards and educating children about the hazards.
In honor of National Veterans and Military Families Month, Defense Centers for Public Health–Aberdeen experts offer some advice and resource recommendations to help parents create a safe and hazard-free home environment.
“Toddlers or very young children can accidentally access many items in or around their home that can result in serious injury or even death,” says Jouelle Lamaute, public health nurse with DCPH-A. “Parents should routinely look around their home to ensure hazardous products are locked away, and that furniture, toys and other products do not have safety recalls.”
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports the top 5 hidden hazards in the home include:
- Magnets that are swallowed.
- Recalled safety products (e.g., furniture, toys, child seats, clothing).
- Windows (blinds and cords).
- Furniture tip overs.
- Pools and spas (drains with suction).
Lead Poisoning and Other Military Housing Concerns
Lead can cause serious developmental and behavioral problems in children and the fetuses of pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect learning, ability to pay attention and academic achievement. While effects of lead exposure may be permanent, if caught early there are things parents can do to prevent further exposure and reduce damage to their child's health. Lead may be present in several sources in the home that parents should consider:
- Primary sources of lead exposure include drinking water from old lead pipes and plumbing fixtures and in paints found in houses before 1978. If lead paint is covered by newer paint, exposure can still occur from chipping or dust during renovations.
- Lead has been found in metal and plastic toys, especially some imported toys, antique toys and toy jewelry. These items may be chewed on by infants and toddlers.
- Lead can also be found in other antique, vintage and traditional non-toy items.
- Lead and other heavy metals may be found in certain in baby foods.
“One exposure source I’ve seen come up is related to the use of ceramic food/serving dishes that have contributed to elevated pediatric blood lead levels,” said Rebecca Hughes, an industrial hygienist with DCPH-A’s Industrial Hygiene Field Services Division. “Some of the glazes on traditional pottery contain a lead compound that can leach into foods when the pottery is not manufactured properly.”
The Food and Drug Administration offers more information on lead-glazed traditional pottery.
A child may be exposed to lead from more than one source, and they may not have visible signs or symptoms. A blood lead test is the best way to find out if a child has lead poisoning. During a blood lead test, a small amount of blood is taken from the finger, heel or arm and tested for lead.
While there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood, the CDC and the Army currently use a blood lead reference value of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are higher than those of most children in the United States.
Hughes says an excellent resource for parents is the CPSC safety guide for childproofing the home.
“The best thing a homeowner or resident can do when encountering lead, mold or other hazards is to address them early,” said Hughes. “That means if they live in military family housing, report peeling/damaged paint, water leaks or damage before mold begins to grow, or any other problem as soon as it is noticed. And keep advocating to have it repaired.”
Hughes says residents may even be able to handle small repairs/cleanups and some housekeeping items themselves to prevent a problem or prevent a small problem from becoming a more serious issue.
“If the scope of the problem becomes large and requires a professional, make sure to hire qualified professionals and ask for references,” said Hughes.
Medicine and Household Poisonings
Hundreds of U.S. children are seen in emergency rooms each year due to accidental ingestion of household products (cleaning products, hand sanitizers, detergent pods, car fluids, medicines) or accidental overdoses of medicine given to them by a caregiver. The Poison Control Center Hotline, 1-800-222-1222, is a useful reference to save in your cell phone.
Here are a few tips you can find on the DCPH-A Child Safety Hazards page:
- The Environmental Protection Agency has an interactive “Household Hazards Hunt” learning tool on their website to help educate your child about some common hazards.
- Before giving your child medications, read labels to ensure proper child dose and possible interactions.
- Dispose of unneeded products and lock up or move those you need to hard-to-reach locations.
- Save the Poison Control Center Hotline on your cell and on/near every phone in your home. Call Poison Control if you think a child has been poisoned and is awake and alert. Call 911 if your child has collapsed or is not breathing.
Hughes says her team does not play a direct role in assessing or assisting residents with environmental hazard assessments of homes but occasionally does take calls from residents.
“Our team often provides consultative support to installation housing offices, departments of public works and the local health departments while they are handling environmental housing concerns and assisting residents,” said Hughes. “On occasion, we have had the opportunity to speak directly with a resident and answer some of their questions and connect them with the installation personnel who can perform these housing assessments. It’s important that everyone have access to safe and healthy housing.”
Safe is Strong
The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, part of Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, launched a “Safe is Strong” project this summer focused on the health and safety of military families with infants and toddlers. Dr. Stephen Cozza, a retired Army colonel, is a psychiatrist and the associate director of the Child and Family Program at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. He recently promoted Safe is Strong at the annual summit of the Military Child Education Coalition. One area of home safety Dr. Cozza highlighted was safe firearm storage.
“We know that more than 40 percent of children in active-duty families are under the age of 6, and 75 percent are under the age of 12,” said Cozza. “We really need to be focused on access to firearms.”
Cozza, who was quoted on this issue in Military Times, cited a study of Soldiers in the U.S. which found that 57 percent of Soldiers with children own firearms. According to the study, 20 percent of those Soldiers owning firearms – and whose children in the house were under age 18 – had at least 1 loaded and unlocked firearm in the house. A 2023 study in the Injury Epidemiology journal reported the ongoing problem of accidental shootings of and by children under 15 years of age. According to the journal article, most of these incidents occur in the home, and victims and shooters are often family members or friends. A key study finding is that guns in the home are not secured properly.
The Safe is Strong website includes a link to an article on healthychildren.org, which highlights the risk of not storing firearms safely and provides recommendations for their safe storage. Military OneSource also offers several recommendations for safely handling guns and ammunition in the home.
In response to health concerns arising from environmental hazards found in military housing, the Defense Health Agency maintains a “Health and Housing” page on their Health.mil website with resources for each military service branch, as well as articles and informational links.
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