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Childhood Lead Poisoning


What is lead poisoning?

The major source of lead exposure today is lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings. Flaking or peeling paint and paint disturbed during home remodeling contribute to lead dust and paint chips that can contaminate the air and ground. Other sources of lead exposure include drinking water from lead pipes, participating in hobbies that use lead materials (pottery, stained glass, hunting and fishing) and occupational exposure in lead-intensive industries such as home remodeling and automobile battery recycling.

Impact on health:

Lead poisoning has neurological effects that are most damaging when the brain is developing rapidly in early childhood. The normal behaviors of children under 3 years of age – crawling, exploring and putting objects in their mouths – put them in contact with lead in their environment. When ingested or inhaled, lead is absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to all parts of the body. Most is deposited in the bones, where it is slowly released over a period of 20 to 25 years. Some goes directly to the brain, where it inhibits the release of neurotransmitters associated with learning. Lead that remains in the blood inhibits the absorption of essential nutrients such as calcium or iron. The neurological effects of lead poisoning may include short term memory deficits, decreased concentration, irritability, slurred speech and loss of coordination. Other symptoms can include nausea, abdominal pain, numbness, headaches and anemia.

How to reduce risk:

Homes built before 1978 may have been painted with lead-based paint. The following guidelines will help you reduce lead exposure:

  • Get your home checked for lead hazards.Hire a professional to conduct an inspection.
  • Check your home for signs of chipping, peeling or deteriorating paint.
  • Clean up paint chips immediately and keep paint in good condition.
  • Keep the places were your children play clean and dust free. Regularly wet-wipe floors, window sills and other surfacesthat may contain lead dust.
  • Wash your child's hands often, especially before meals and after playing outside.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in soil that may contain lead.
  • Ensure your children eat well-balanced meals. Children with good diets absorb less lead.

Blood lead testing measures we track:

Number and percentage of children tested

Number and percentage of tests with blood lead concentrations between 5 and 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL)

Number and percentage of confirmed tests with blood lead level at or above the action level of 10 µg/dL

Number and percentage of confirmed tests with blood lead level at or above the action level of 10 µg/dL by blood lead level (state only)

About the measures:

Because assessment and testing practices vary widely across the state and over time, these measures cannot be interpreted as being representative of the general population in a county or the state. The usefulness of these measures is further diminished by missing county of residence information in approximately one third of the records. Even when county of residence at the time of testing is known, it may not correspond to where the exposure occurred. Distribution of lead hazards or risk factors for lead exposure can differ by county. Comparisons with other states must be made with extreme caution because some states require all children to be tested while others, like Oregon, only require "at-risk" children to be targeted for testing.

The measures of elevated blood lead levels at or above the action level of 10 µg/dL include only confirmed tests (either one elevated venous test or two elevated capillary or unknown specimen tests less than 12 weeks apart). The capillary test is subject to contamination, which can result in a false positive, the number and percent of elevated blood lead levels may be overestimated when non-venous test results are used. The measures of elevated blood lead levels between 5 and less than 10 µg/dL include selections for confirmed and unconfirmed tests.

About the data:

Percentages based on 10 or fewer cases may not be reliable.

Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).

Confidentiality is protected by suppression rules.

Related Indicators:

  • Reproductive and Birth Outcomes

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