What is Lead Poisoning?
Lead is a highly toxic metal that may cause a range of health problems, especially in young children. When lead is absorbed into the body, it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, like the kidneys, nerves and blood.
Both inside and outside the home, deteriorated lead-paint mixes with household dust and soil and becomes tracked in. Children may become lead poisoned by:
- Putting their hands or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths,
- Eating paint chips found in homes with peeling or flaking lead-based paint, or
- Playing in lead-contaminated soil
Take a moment to look at the brochure "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home" for additional information (available in English, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Somali and Arabic).
Lead and Your Health
Most of the lead found in homes comes from lead-based paint, which was used in homes built before 1978. When old paint cracks and chips, it creates lead dust. Often, the dust is so small you can’t even see it. Lead poisoning is most often caused by swallowing or breathing in lead dust by accident.
Lead can also be found in other places in your home. Sometimes lead can be found in water that travels through lead pipes or in the soil around your home.
Lead poisoning in children can cause:
- Damage to the brain and nervous system
- Learning and behavior problems
- Slow growth and development
- Hearing and speech problems
Lead poisoning in adults can cause:
- Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Brain or nerve damage
- Memory and concentration problems
- Muscle and joint pain
Some of the effects of lead poisoning may never go away. Most people with lead poisoning don’t have noticeable signs or symptoms. A doctor can test you for lead by testing your blood.
Who gets lead poisoning?
- Children get lead poisoning from breathing in lead dust or from swallowing lead dust on their hands and toys. Children under 6 years old are most at risk for lead poisoning.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women can pass lead to their babies.
- Adults can get lead poisoning if they are renovating or doing work on old houses with lead-based paint, if they work in a factory that uses lead in its products, or if they have hobbies that use products with lead in them (like hunting, stained glass-making, or pottery).
- Recent immigrants and refugees are more likely to live in homes built before 1978. They also may have some cultural practices that put them in contact with lead. Also, they often have less access to foods rich in iron and calcium, which makes them more likely to get lead poisoning.
Preventing lead poisoning is especially important for young children. Their bodies and brains are still growing and developing; so they are more sensitive to the harmful effects of lead.