Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning

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Children
Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
  • Anemia
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

Test Your Child
Find out if your child has elevated levels of lead in his or her blood. Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. You can test your child for lead poisoning by asking your pediatrician to do a simple blood test. Children with elevated blood lead levels can have serious health effects. If you know your child has lead poisoning, talk to your pediatrician and local health agency about what you can do.

Lead poisoning occurs over many months or years of exposure to lead in the environment. It is especially harmful to children under age 6, and more so for children under age 3.

In children, lead poisoning can stunt growth, cause brain damage, kidney damage, and hearing damage, and can permanently damage mental development. In adults, it can increase blood pressure, cause digestive problems, kidney damage, nerve disorders, sleep problems, and muscle and joint pain.

Your Child's Toys
Consumers unsure about whether a particular toy or other item has been part of a recall should check it online at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. If a given product has been recalled, you can probably return it to the store where you bought it and let them deal with the hassle of getting it to the manufacturer. If you know that an item was recalled because it contained hazardous materials, you can drop it off at your local municipal hazardous waste collection facility.

Earth911 provides a comprehensive national database of such facilities.

Pregnant Women
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the fetus the lead. This can result in serious effects to the mother and her developing fetus, including reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth.

Find out more about lead's effects on pregnancy:
Breast Milk
Lead can also be transmitted through breast milk. Read more on lead exposure in pregnancy and lactating women (PDF) online.

Other Adults
Lead is also harmful to other adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:
  • Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
Lower Your Chances of Exposure to Lead
Simple steps like keeping your home clean and well-maintained will go a long way in preventing lead exposure. You can lower the chances of exposure to lead in your home, both now and in the future, by taking these steps:
  • Address water damage quickly and completely
  • Clean around painted areas where friction can generate dust, such as doors, windows, and drawers. Wipe these areas with a wet sponge or rag to remove paint chips or dust
  • Clean debris out of outlet screens or faucet aerators on a regular basis
  • Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead
  • Flush water outlets used for drinking or food preparation
  • If you are having home renovation, repairs, or painting done, make sure your contractor is Lead-Safe Certified, and make sure they follow lead safe work practices
  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration
  • Keep your home clean and dust-free
  • Teach children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors
  • Use only cold water to prepare food and drinks
  • Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often
Determine if your family is at risk for lead poisoning with the Lead Poisoning Home Checklist.

Lead Exposure Data
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics monitors blood lead levels in the United States. Get information on the number of children with elevated blood lead levels, and number and percentage of children tested for lead in your area.

The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.

Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead level of concern if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. Experts now use a new level based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood (when compared to children who are exposed to more lead than most children). Currently that is 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. The new, lower value means that more children likely will be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.