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Children and Lead Poisoning Factsheet

Children and Lead

Download the lead fact sheet (pdf)

How can my child be exposed to lead?

Home renovations and remodeling contribute to nearly half of the childhood lead poisonings in Oregon.

Most children are exposed to lead from household dust containing lead from lead-based paint. Prior to 1978, and especially before 1950, lead was a common additive to house paint. Homes painted with lead-based paint are an ongoing risk as painted surfaces break down over time and when paint is disturbed in remodeling by sanding and scraping. Windows, doors, steps and porches are areas where surfaces may rub together and make lead dust.

Lead-based paint can also be found in soil around homes as a result of peeling and chipping paint and remodeling activities, such as sanding and scraping of paint. Soils near roads may contain lead dust from automobile exhaust deposited before leaded gasoline was phased out. People track this soil into homes where children play on the floor, and sometimes children play in bare soil contaminated with lead.

Lead can also be found in lead pipes or solder, imported or older ceramics and pottery, certain hobbies, and folk medicines. Parents who work in lead-related industries can bring lead home on their clothing, exposing children to the hazard.

What are symptoms of lead poisoning in children?

Signs of lead poisoning are not always easy to see. Children can be poisoned by lead and may not look or act sick. Many children who are lead poisoned look and act healthy. Sometimes the vague symptoms may be mistaken for other illnesses such as stomach upset or flu. Because of this, lead poisoning may go unrecognized. A blood lead test is the only way to find out if a child has lead poisoning.

Some possible signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children are:

  • Tiredness or loss of energy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Reduced attention span
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Aches or pains in stomach

How can lead poisoning affect my child?

Children can get lead in their bodies by swallowing or breathing in dust that contains lead. Lead is a poison that affects every organ and system in the body. There is not function or need for lead. Very high levels of lead exposure can cause coma, seizures and death. Even a little lead can make children slower learners.

Exposure to lead can cause:

  • Brain damage and lower intelligence
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impaired speech and language
  • Slowed growth
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Hearing damage

The effects of lead on a child can be permanent and irreversible.

How can I find out if my child has been exposed to lead?

Your health care provider will ask you some questions to see if your child is at risk for lead poisoning. The only way to know for sure if your child has been exposed to lead is to have their blood tested. Blood tests are used to find out how much lead is in a child’s blood. The test is simple. A health care provider takes blood from your child and a lab will test the blood.

Is my child at risk for lead poisoning?

A "yes" or "don't know" answer to any of the following eight questions means that your child could be at risk for lead poisoning and should have a blood lead test.

  1. Does your child live in or regularly visit a home, child care, or other building built before 1950?
  2. During the past 6 months has your child lived in or regularly visited a home, child care, or other building built before 1978 with recent or ongoing painting, repair, and/or remodeling?
  3. Is your child enrolled in or attending a Head Start program?
  4. Does your child have a brother, sister, other relative, housemate or playmate with lead poisoning?
  5. Does your child spend time with an adult that has a job or hobby where they may work with lead (such as painting, remodeling, auto radiators, batteries, auto repair, soldering, making sinkers, bullets, stained glass, pottery, going to shooting ranges, hunting or fishing)?
  6. Do you have pottery or ceramics made in other countries or lead crystal or pewter that are used for cooking, storing or serving food or drink?
  7. Has your child ever used any traditional, imported or home remedies or cosmetics such as Azarcon, Alarcon, Greta, Rueda, Pay-loo-ah, or Kohl?
  8. Has your child been adopted from, lived in or visited a foreign country in the last 6 months?
  9. Do you have concerns about your child's development?

What does my child's blood lead test mean?

The amount of lead found in a child's blood is called a blood lead level (pdf) Blood lead tests tell how many micrograms (millionth of a gram) of lead are in each deciliter (tenth of a liter) of a child's blood ( µg/dl). A blood lead level will tell if a child has been exposed to lead in the last 3-4 months.

To find out how much lead is in a child's blood, a small amount of blood is taken from a child's arm, finger or heel. Taking blood from a child's finger or heel is called a finger or heel-stick or a capillary test. Sometimes the blood from a capillary test may be contaminated by a small amount of lead on the child's hand or foot. This may cause an inaccurate or falsely elevated test result. Blood taken from an arm vein (venous blood test) is a more reliable test.

Is lead poisoning preventable?

Lead poisoning is preventable if hazards are detected and removed. The warning signs of lead poisoning are not always noticeable, so parents need to carefully check their child's environment for possible sources of lead. Parents can help protect their children from lead poisoning by reducing exposure to lead in the environment, and by promoting good nutrition and healthy habits.

How can I protect my child?

  • Find out when your home was built. Paint used before 1978, especially before 1950, may contain lead.
  • Regularly inspect your home for signs of chipping, peeling or deteriorating paint. Clean up paint chips immediately and keep paint in good condition.
  • Use lead-safe work practices or hire a lead-safe professional for home maintenance or renovations.
  • Keep the areas where children play clean and dust free. Regularly wet-wipe floors, window sills and frames, porches and other surfaces to remove lead dust.
  • Wash children's hands often, especially before meals and after playing outside.
  • Wash toys, stuffed animals, bottles and pacifiers often to remove lead dust.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering the home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
  • Have children play on grass instead of bare soil. Provide a sandbox with lead-free sand.
  • Inspect painted playground equipment for peeling or chipping paint.
  • Have children use only non-toxic art supplies.
  • Use cold water for drinking, cooking, or making baby formula. Run tap water for 15-30 seconds until it feels noticeably colder.
  • Do not use imported, old or handmade pottery to cook, store or serve food or drinks.
  • Provide regular healthy meals and snacks. Meals high in iron, vitamin C and calcium help prevent young bodies from absorbing lead.
  • Keep children away from hobby or work areas if lead is used.
  • Don't bring lead dust from hobbies or work places into the home. Shower and change clothes and shoes before going home or getting into your car. Wash your clothes separately from the family laundry.

How can a healthy diet fight lead poisoning?

A well-balanced diet is very important. Children with empty stomachs absorb more lead than children with full stomachs. Provide your child with four to six small healthy meals during the day. A diet rich in calcium and iron can reduce the amount of lead a child absorbs. Eating foods with vitamin C helps increase the amount of iron in the blood. Eating a variety of foods as part of a well-balanced diet helps a child grow up healthy and strong.



Foods High in Calcium Foods High In Iron Foods High in Vitamin C
Milk Lean red meat Oranges/or juice
Yogurt Fish and chicken Grapefruit/or juice
Cheese Dried beans and peas Tomatoes/or juice
Tofu Tofu Strawberries
Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli) Raisins, prunes Broccoli
   Iron fortified cereal Brussels sprouts