Don't be mislead. Know the facts about lead exposure.
The impact of lead poisoning on children
Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust. Its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination, human exposure and significant public health problems in many parts of the world.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health impacts, particularly on the development of the brain and nervous system.
It only takes this much lead to poison a child.
Sources of lead exposure
Lead dust from paint in homes built before 1978 the primary cause of lead poisoning
1 in 4 children live
in these homes
Over 30% of children exposed by sources other than paint
Windows and Doors
A home, school, or daycare built before 1978 may have lead paint on the windows, trim, etc. When the paint peels and cracks, it creates harmful lead dust, which can be inhaled by little ones in your household.
Toys and Jewelry
Lead can be found in imported and antique toys, costume jewelry and trinkets.
Older plumbing may contain lead which can contaminate tap water.
Imported, old, and handmade pottery may have been made with leaded glaze.
Soil near busy streets or pre-1978 buildings can contain high lead concentrations.
Hobby / Work
A hobby or job can bring home lead dust on shoes and clothing (examples include: hunting, fishing, shooting, construction work, remodeling, welding, auto repair, etc.).
Routes of exposure
Both adults and children can become exposed to lead through occupational and environmental sources
- Ingestion of lead-contaminated dust, water (from leaded pipes) and food (from lead-glazed or lead-soldered containers).
- Inhalation of lead particles generated by burning materials containing lead, for example during smelting, recycling, stripping leaded paint and using leaded aviation fuel
Don’t be “mislead” about lead…
Download the Sources of Lead guide and learn how a simple blood lead test at your child’s next pediatrician’s visit can provide answers.
What to know about Lead Exposure
The impact of lead poisoning on children
Many lead-poisoned children do not show any signs of exposure. If gone undetected, lead may cause:
- learning delays
- damage to a child’s body including, brain, kidney and nervous system
- hearing loss
- Hyperactivity and behavior challenges
- delayed growth and development
- lower IQ and lower achievement in school
Why is having my child’s lead level test so important?
All children enrolled in Medicaid should have their lead levels tested at age 1 year, and again, a second test at age two years. Don’t be fooled — children who look happy and healthy can have dangerous lead levels of lead in their bodies. The only way to know is to test. These lead level tests are routinely done during a child’s well-child visit at the doctor during Well Child Check appointments and the cost is covered by most insurance providers.
How do I know if my child has been exposed?
A blood lead test is the only way to know if your child has been exposed to lead.
- Children enrolled in Medicaid are required to get tested for lead at ages 12 and 24 months, or age 24–72 months if they have no record of ever being tested.
- For children not enrolled in Medicaid, the CDC recommends focusing testing efforts on high-risk neighborhoods and children. These include children who:
- live or spend time in a house or building built before 1978
- are from low-income households
- are immigrants, refugees, or recently adopted from less developed countries
- live or spend time with someone who works with lead or has hobbies that expose them to lead
How is the testing performed?
A blood test can be performed at the doctor’s office, local health department, clinic, or hospital. A healthcare provider will test a child’s blood for lead. During a blood lead test, a small amount of blood is taken from the finger, heel, or arm and tested for lead.
Finger-prick (capillary) sample is usually the first step to determine if a child has lead in their blood. A finger-prick test that shows a blood lead level at or above CDC’s blood lead reference value is usually followed by a second test to confirm it.
A venous blood draw takes blood from the child’s vein. It may take a few days to receive results from the laboratory. A healthcare provider may order a venous blood draw to confirm the blood lead level seen in an initial capillary test.
To find out if a home has lead, hire a certified lead inspector to test for lead. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Locate Certified Inspection, Risk Assessment, and Abatement Firms web page to locate one.
Renters can ask their landlord to have the home inspected or to share results of recently conducted lead inspections. Visit the Lead in Drinking Water and the Lead in Soil web pages for additional information on testing for lead in or around the home.
Frequently asked questions about lead exposure
What is lead?
Lead is a natural occurring metal used in a variety of products and materials. Exposure to lead even in small amount can affect multiple body systems and can be particularly harmful to young children.
How does lead exposure occur?
Lead exposure occurs when a person inhales lead-containing fumes or dust or swallows something that contains lead. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for U.S. children. Despite major progress, lead poisoning remains one of the top childhood environmental health problems today. (Source: Healthy Homes)
Is there any safe level of lead?
No level of lead in the blood can be defined as safe. Evidence has been building regarding health and developmental problems in children with blood levels below 10 μg/dL, which traditionally was regarded as the level of concern. An advisory panel of the CDC now recommends that children with blood levels as low as 5 μg/dL be identified as having elevated levels and be monitored. Even such low levels may harm a child’s cardiovascular, immunological, and endocrine health, with consequences for that individual and for overall public health. While the effects of lead appear to be irreversible, eliminating lead exposure can reduce further damage.
Why are children especially vulnerable?
Toddlers and young children tend to explore with their hands and frequently put them in their mouths. As young children crawl on the floor and reach windows, railings, and walls, they may inhale dust from peeling and chipping lead-based paint or ingest paint chips.
Furthermore, children under six years of age are biologically more sensitive to lead due to rapid brain and organ development, when the body readily takes up lead—mistaking it for calcium. Therefore, children who are low in calcium or have iron-deficient anemia may have an ever-greater uptake of lead.
Are adults affected by lead poisoning?
Yes, adults can become lead poisoned, most frequently from the workplace and hobbies. Lead in adults can affect the central nervous and gastrointestinal systems and can cause chronic kidney disease as well as other health problems.
What can I do to prevent lead poisoning?
The best way to prevent lead poisoning among young children is to remove the source of lead. To prevent exposure, especially in homes built before 1978, the CDC recommends:
- Contact your local health department about testing paint and dust from your home.
- Make sure a child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
- Create barriers between children and lead sources until clean-up is complete.
- Regularly wet mop floors, damp sponge walls, and all horizontal surfaces and vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air vacuum (HEPA vac). Cleaning is a temporary solution until the lead can be completely removed.
- Pregnant women and children should stay away from pre-1978 homes if a renovation is underway.
- Regularly wash children’s hands, especially before eating.
- Regularly wash children’s toys.
- Prevent children from playing in bare soil, opting instead for sandboxes or for planting grass. This is especially true of areas that are within one block of a major highway or busy street, as lead that was once in gasoline may have accumulated in the soil.
- Give your children foods that are high in calcium and iron, such as meat, beans, spinach, and low-fat dairy products. This can help reduce the amount of lead absorbed by the body.
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