Lead Poisoning

baby  playing with toys

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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

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.

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.

Almost all emissions of lead into the air have been eliminated in Dane County. One remaining source of lead air pollution is gas used in some small planes. If you live within 0.62 miles of an airport that hosts small propeller planes, talk to your healthcare provider about lead testing. Learn more about the risk of lead poisoning in our report.

Protect Your Child From Lead

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 try to sand off lead-based paint.
  • 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 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 or rent a home or apartment built before 1978, you must be told if there are lead hazards in the home.
  • 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.
  • Learn how to do lead safe painting projects.

If Your Child is Lead Poisoned

If a child has a blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or higher, they have lead poisoning. We help families whose children have lead poisoning by:

  • Assessing their home and other places the child visits for lead.
  • Giving information about managing lead hazards in their home.
  • Providing ongoing case management to make sure the lead level is going down. That may include assessing the child’s development and making sure they get medical care.

We Work to Prevent Exposure to Lead

  • We monitor for the prevalence of lead in the community and provide recommendations to prevent lead poisoning.
  • We enforce the City of Madison lead ordinance, Madison General Ordinance 7.49, to make sure that property owners and contractors follow safe work practices when painting or remodeling older housing.


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