baby  playing with toys

What is Lead Poisoning?

  • Lead poisoning  happens when you swallow or breathe in lead,  or drink water from lead pipes.
  • Children under 6 years old are most at risk.
  • Most children get lead poisoning from paint dust in homes built before 1978.
  • Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and behavior problems.
  • A lead test is the only way to know if a child has lead poisoning.

How Lead Affects the Body

Even if there are no clear signs of lead poisoning, lead still affects the body. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Behavior problems and hyperactivity
  • Lower IQ and learning problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia

How Lead Poisoning Happens

The most common cause of lead poisoning is when children play near areas with worn out or damaged paint. They can get invisible lead dust on their hands and toys. Then, when they put their hands or toys in their mouth, they can get lead poisoning.

Lead in Your Home

Lead is often found in:

  • Paint and varnish in homes built before 1978, especially if it is peeling or chipping
  • Drinking water when lead pipes or solder are present
  • Dirt, hobby areas and workplaces, varnishes on antiques, old painted toys and pottery
  • Leafy vegetables grown in contaminated soil or eggs from chickens that ate lead contaminated materials.
  • Spices imported from Mexico, India, Asia, and the Middle East. Common imported spices with possible lead contamination include: Cumin, Turmeric, Chilies, Curry Powder, Kabsa, Ginger, Allspice, Garam Masala and Chloe Masala
  • Certain imported candies, such as candy from Mexico that contains chili or tamarind
  • Ceramic dishes, and folk remedies may also be contaminated with lead

Lead in Your Community

Children may also be exposed to lead in childcare facilities, schools, and homes of friends or family. Talk to your childcare provider or school staff to find out what is known about lead in these places.

You can read recommendations we have made to schools and childcare centers about minimizing lead in drinking water: 

Protect Your Child From Lead

Anyone can get lead poisoning, but children between six months and six years of age are at highest risk.

Things that put small children at risk for lead poisoning:

  • They put their fingers and toys in their mouths a lot.
  • They play on the ground and floor where paint chips and lead dust may have fallen.
  • They chew and put their mouth on painted window sills, furniture, and railings.
  • They eat dirt and paint chips.

Signs of lead poisoning

Often there are no signs. Your child can have lead poisoning and not look or act sick. The only way to know is to have a blood test done.

Take Precautions

Children under 6 years of age who live in or visit pre-1978 housing are at greatest risk for lead poisoning. These basic steps can help prevent a child from becoming lead poisoned or being exposed to lead:

  • Wash floors and windows the right way.
  • Wash your child's hands often, especially before eating and sleeping.
  • Cover chipped or peeling paint with contact paper, duct tape, or a new layer of paint.
  • Do not power sand lead-based paint, even hand sanding should be avoided.
  • Eat healthful foods high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C; avoid fatty foods.
  • Use cold tap water for drinking, cooking, and making infant formula.

Get Items Tested for Lead

Get Your Child Tested for Lead

Talk with your child’s health care provider about lead poisoning testing. Read more about testing recommendations

  • If you think your child has been exposed to lead, ask your provider about lead poisoning testing.
  • If you do not have health insurance call us at (608) 243-0304 and ask to speak with the Lead Program Nurse.

If you buy a home or rent an apartment:

  • If you buy a home built before 1978, you must be told if there are lead hazards in the home.
  • If you rent an apartment built before 1978, your landlord must tell you if there are lead hazards before you sign a lease. It is against the law for you to be evicted or harassed if you complain about lead.
  • Call us at (608) 242-6515 if you have not received information about possible lead hazards in your home or rental.

Doing painting or remodeling?