Safety Information

Lead Poisoning

Topics on this page include:

What is lead poisoning?

Why is lead poisoning dangerous?

Who is at risk for lead poisoning?

Some common myths about lead

Common sources of lead exposure in children

Uncommon sources of lead exposure in children

Other sources of lead exposure

Common symptoms of lead poisoning in adults

Common symptoms of lead poisoning in children

Who should be tested for possible lead poisoning?

How do I get my children tested for lead?

Is treatment available for lead poisoning?

What is the incidence of lead poisoning in California?

What should I do if I suspect there is lead in my home?

Can I remove lead pain from my home myself?

How can we reduce our risk of lead exposure?

 

boy and paint cartoon What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a neurotoxic metallic element that can be absorbed by the body, primarily through the lungs and stomach. Lead poisoning occurs only when too much lead accumulates in the body. Generally, lead poisoning occurs slowly, resulting from the gradual accumulation of lead in bone and tissue after repeated exposure. However, it is important to note that young children absorb 50% of a lead ingestion while adults absorb only 10%.

Why is lead poisoning dangerous?

Left untreated, lead poisoning can damage many internal organs, including the kidney, nervous system and brain. Because of the possibility of permanent impairment, lead poisoning is particularly dangerous during the critical development periods of infants and young children under the age of 7 years.

Who is at risk for lead poisoning?

It is commonly believed that lead poisoning affects only the urban poor. While exposure risk is higher in deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods, this disease occurs in all social and economic groups. Middle-class children can become exposed to lead dust during renovations of older homes. In any case, children under the age of 3 are especially at risk because they crawl or play at ground level. They also put everything into their mouths and their small bodies absorb and accumulate toxic lead amounts more quickly than adults.

Some common myths about lead

"I've heard that eating a single paint chip causes lead poisoning."

False: Lead poisoning develops after repeated exposures to substances containing small amounts of lead, such as paint chips, dust, soil or eating from lead-glazed dishes. Since 1977, paints produced in the United States do not contain lead.

Doesn't eating pencil lead cause lead poisoning?

False: Pencil "lead" is now made of graphite, which contains no lead.

Common sources of lead exposure in children

High Amount Sources

Lead-based paint chips, interior and exterior paint (before 1977)
Old window glaze

Medium Amount Sources

Soil, especially in dense urban areas
Dust and debris from older building renovation

Low Amount Sources

Drinking water
Playground soil
Household dust

Uncommon sources of lead exposure in children

High Amount Sources

Water boiled in leaded pots and pans
Foreign cosmetics: Kohl, Surina
Foreign cold medicines: Azarcon 93.5%, (also Rueda, Coral, Alarcon, Liga, Maria Luisa);
Pay-loo-ah 90% lead with arsenic; Yogran Guggulu

Medium Amount Sources

Soil from smelter area
Ceramics

Low Amount Sources

Old newsprint
Leaded crystal

Other sources of lead exposure

Leaded gasoline fumes
Leaded soldering fumes
Leaded foil wine bottle caps
Leaded residue from tainted soil or air in some fruits and vegetables
Certain inks
Heroin
Bootleg whiskey
Bone meal or dolomite supplements
Auto battery storage casings
Home smelting of lead shot and bullets

Common symptoms of lead poisoning in adults

Fatigue
Depression
Heart failure
Abdominal pain
Gout
Kidney failure
High blood pressure
Wrist or foot weakness
Reproductive problems
Anemia

Common symptoms of lead poisoning in children

Decreased appetite
Stomach ache
Sleeplessness
Learning problems
Constipation
Vomiting
Diarrhea
Tiredness
Lowered I.Q.
Anemia

Who should be tested for possible lead poisoning?

Children who are anemic
Children with learning or behavioral problems
Children who have been treated with foreign folk-medicines that contain high lead content
Children who have a sibling, housemate or playmate being followed or treated for an elevated lead level.
Children who live in or regularly visit a house with peeling or chipping paint built before 1960. This also includes day-care, pre-school or the babysitter's house.
Children living with an adult whose job or hobby involves exposure to lead. Lead dust can be brought home on the adult's clothes and contaminate a child's environment.
Children living near environmental sources of lead, such as battery manufacturing plants, lead smelters, battery recycling plants or other lead industries

How do I get my children tested for lead?

Contact your physician to request a blood test specifically for lead levels. According to a statement released by the Center for Disease Control, data indicate some adverse effects have been documented in children with blood levels as low as 10 mcg/dl of whole blood. Call your local health department to see if your child is eligible for free testing through your local Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP).

Is treatment available for lead poisoning?

Yes, effective treatments to remove lead from the body are available through your physician. First, the blood is tested and, if the levels are too high, treatment can be started. A recent study demonstrated that a child's I.Q. could improve if blood lead levels are lowered by medical treatment.

What is the incidence of lead poisoning in California?

Fortunately, the incidence is low. Compared to the East Coast, California is a relatively new state. Most of the buildings are relatively new, thanks to the new home building trends of the last 20-25 years. California does not have the areas of concentrated industry that is seen on the East Coast. But we can never have false confidence that lead poisoning does not exist. If you have concerns, speak to your physician.

What should I do if I suspect there is lead in my home?

Have your home checked by a qualified inspector. Several kits that test for the presence of lead in various sources are now available. Local public health departments, government agencies and water quality agencies may offer programs, recommendations or additional information.

Can I remove lead paint from my home myself?

Lead paint removal should be done only by trained, certified professionals who are experienced in working with hazardous materials and special equipment.

How can we reduce our risk of lead exposure?

If lead paint has been found in your house, eliminate contaminated dust by using a solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water. Damp-mop floors and clean other surfaces with a cloth or sponge that will not be re-used on dishes, eating, drinking or cooking utensils.

Block painted windowsills and moldings with heavy furniture to keep children away.

Install vinyl siding over exterior lead painted surfaces.

Plant grass for dust control.

Reduce children's contact with soil if your house was built before 1978 or is near a major highway.

Plant bushes near exterior walls to keep children away.

Test your water for lead safety through recommendations from local water suppliers or government agencies.

Run tap water for 60 seconds before using it whenever the water may have been standing awhile.

Use cold water for drinking, cooking and making infant formula because it carries less lead. (Boiling the water concentrates the lead.)

Check pottery, china and leaded glassware for lead content.


Call: 1-800-876-4766
anytime, anyplace in California
California Poison Control System

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This page last updated June 1999
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