Health Specialist (Formerly Sanitarian)
Information and Services provided by Environmental Health
Lead Poisoning Prevention
Lead is a very strong poison. When a person swallows a lead object or inhales lead dust, some of the poison can stay in the body and cause serious health problems. A single high, toxic dose of lead can cause severe emergency symptoms. However, it is more common for lead poisoning to build up slowly over time. This occurs from repeated exposure to small amounts of lead. In this case, there may not be any obvious symptoms, but the lead can still cause serious health problems over time, such as difficulty sleeping or lowered IQ in children.
Lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children's developing nerves and brains. The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be. Unborn children are the most vulnerable.
Children get lead in their bodies when they put lead objects in their mouths, especially if they swallow the lead object. They can even get lead poison on their fingers from touching a dusty or peeling lead object, and then putting their fingers in their mouths or eating food afterward. Tiny amounts of lead can also be inhaled.
Lead is found in:
- House paint before 1978. Even if the paint is not peeling, it can be a problem. Lead paint is very dangerous when it is being stripped or sanded. These actions release fine lead dust into the air. Infants and children living in pre-1960's housing (when paint often contained lead) have the highest risk of lead poisoning. Small children often swallow paint chips or dust from lead-based paint.
- Toys and furniture painted before 1976.
- Painted toys and decorations made outside the U.S.
- Lead bullets, fishing sinkers, curtain weights.
- Plumbing, pipes, faucets. Lead can be found in drinking water in homes whose pipes were connected with lead solder. While new building codes require lead-free solder, lead is still found in some modern faucets.
- Soil contaminated by decades of car exhaust or years of house paint scrapings. Thus, lead is more common in soil near highways and houses.
- Hobbies involving soldering, stained glass, jewelry making, pottery glazing, miniature lead figures (always look at labels).
- Children's paint sets and art supplies (always look at labels).
- Pewter pitchers and dinnerware.
- Storage batteries.
There are many possible symptoms of lead poisoning. Lead can affect many different parts of the body. Over time, even low levels of lead exposure can harm a child's mental development. The possible health problems get worse as the level of lead in the blood gets higher. Possible complications include:
- Reduced IQ
- Slowed body growth
- Hearing problems
- Behavior or attention problems
- Failure at school
- Kidney damage
The symptoms of lead poisoning may include:
- Aggressive behavior
- Low appetite and energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced sensations
- Loss of previous developmental skills (in young children)
- Abdominal pain and cramping (usually the first sign of a high, toxic dose of lead poison)
- Very high levels may cause vomiting, staggering gait, muscle weakness, seizures, or coma
Ways to reduce your exposure to lead
- Keep your home as dust free as possible.
- Everyone should wash their hands before eating.
- Throw out old painted toys if you do not know whether the paint contains lead.
- Let tap water run for a minute before drinking or cooking with it.
- If your water has been tested high in lead, consider installing an effective filtering device or switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking.
- Avoid canned goods from foreign countries until the ban on lead soldered cans goes into effect.
- If imported wine containers have a lead foil wrapper, wipe the rim and neck of the bottle with a towel moistened with lemon juice, vinegar, or wine before using.
- Don't store wine, spirits, or vinegar-based salad dressings in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time, as lead can leach out into the liquid.
Lead Testing: All children should have lead test done at 1 year of age. All children should be screened to find out if they are exposed to lead on a regular basis. If they are those children may require additional and more frequent testing.