Existing lead standards aren't doing enough to protect children, according to members of the American Academy of Pediatrics' environmental health council in a statement published Monday.

"Standards for the amount of lead that can be present in paint, water, dust and soil are not based on health standards, the pediatricians say, but instead on what's been feasible to attain," NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell reports. "Such standards, they write, create 'an illusion of safety.'"

NPR reports that an estimated 37 million homes in the United States still contain lead-based paint while 6 million homes get their drinking water via lead pipes.

"We've taken lead out of the paint and out of the gasoline, but the history is still present," says Dr. Jennifer Lowry, a co-author of the AAP's report and medical toxicologist with Children's Mercy, a hospital in Kansas City. "We should know where the old houses are that were built before 1960, where the soil is next to the highways, where we have these lead problems and actually fix it before we send our kids out to live in those environments."

Detection of more than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in a child throws up a red flag for healthcare providers, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That puts the child in the 2.5 percent of children in the United States with the highest levels of lead in the blood.

By the time the lead is detected the damage has already been done, Lowry says. "We cannot have our children be canaries in the coal mine, where they get exposed first and then we have to try to fix it. If we want to actually do the right thing, we should prevent it from happening in the first place."

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