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Lead Poisoning

Lead is a soft, highly toxic metal. It occurs naturally in the earth but is spread through the environment by human activities. For many years, it was used in products found in and around homes, including paint and gasoline.

Lead can be found in:

  • Air
  • Contaminated soil
  • Drinking water
  • Household dust
  • Inexpensive metal jewelry
  • Lead-based paint
  • Lead-glazed pottery
  • Paint on some toys
  • Pipes in old homes

Until 1978, lead paint was commonly used on the interiors and exteriors of homes. Some outdoor structures are still painted with lead paint. Over time, this paint can chip and release lead dust into the air.

Lead paint in older homes remains the most common source of lead poisoning for children in the United States. Old pipes may also be made of lead, which can seep into tap water.

Lead in the air comes from its use in gasoline. Millions of tons of lead were released into the environment through car exhaust.

24-hour Poison Control Center hotline: 1-800-222-1222

Lead can cause serious health effects

There is no safe level of lead exposure. A person’s age, nutritional status, the source of lead and length of exposure all contribute to how a person’s body handles the lead exposure and clinical effects that can occur.

Children are especially at risk due to their small size and developing brains. Lead poisoning has been linked to lower IQ scores, slowed growth and development, and learning and behavior problems in children exposed to even low levels of lead.

Chronic exposure in adults can cause:

  • Fertility problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nerve disorders

Most adults who are lead poisoned get exposed at work. Occupations at risk for lead exposure include those that involve:

  • Firing ranges
  • Maintenance and repair of bridges and water towers
  • Manufacture and disposal of batteries
  • Renovation and remodeling
  • Smelting (producing metal)
  • Welding

Although there are medications that can remove lead from the body, they do not appear to undo the damage caused by lead.

Protect your family

Lead poisoning is 100% preventable! By taking some simple precautions, you can protect your family from lead exposure before harm is done.

  • Clean dusty surfaces. Clean your floors with a wet mop and wipe furniture, windowsills and other dusty surfaces with a damp cloth.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Regular meals and good nutrition might help lower lead absorption. Children especially need enough calcium, vitamin C and iron in their diets to help keep lead from being absorbed.
  • Keep your home well-maintained. If your home has lead-based paint, check regularly for peeling paint and fix problems promptly. Do not sand peeling paint, which could create lead-contaminated dust particles and use a lead-certified contractor for remodeling or remediation.
  • Prevent children from playing on bare soil. Provide them with a sandbox that's covered when not in use. Plant grass or cover bare soil with mulch.
  • Remove shoes before entering the house. This will help keep lead-contaminated soil outside.
  • Run cold water. If you have older plumbing containing lead pipes or fittings, run your cold water for at least a minute before using. Don't use hot tap water to make baby formula or for cooking.
  • Talk with your child’s doctor about a simple blood lead test. Lead poisoning can be hard to detect – even people who seem healthy can have an elevated blood lead level. A simple blood test can diagnose lead poisoning. Children should get tested at 1 and 2 years old.
  • Wash hands and toys. To help reduce hand-to-mouth transfer of contaminated dust or soil, wash your children's hands after outdoor play, before eating and at bedtime. Wash their toys regularly.

Additionally, your child’s doctor might recommend additional testing for those who live in older homes, have a higher lead exposure risk, or for children less than 6 years of age who haven’t been previously tested.

Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention.

Mother and children on computer

See Hunter and Scout’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

Teachers, parents and caregivers can access tips and tools for educating young children on lead poisoning prevention measures. Sign up to receive materials for teaching these prevention measures to kids.

Learn more

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