Sources of Lead
- Lead-based paint, most often found in homes built before 1978
- Lead in household dust from painted surfaces rubbing, paint peeling & cracking
- Certain plastics, painted toys, jewelry, other consumer products
Health Effects of Lead Exposure
- Damage to brain & nervous system
- Learning and behavior problems
- Slowed growth & development
- Nausea, hearing loss
Preventing Lead Toxicity
For children under 6 years of age, talk with your doctor about a simple lead test.
Talk to your local health department about testing your home if it was built before 1978.
- Wash children’s hands frequently, wash toys, pacifiers & bottles often.
- Keep house clean & dust free, clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead dust.
- The most common way that lead enters the body is by breathing in lead dust that has been created when lead-based paint chips and peels.
- Lead enters the body by swallowing paint chips and lead dust from hands and other items that have been on the floor and are covered with lead dust.
- Lead enters the body by swallowing contaminated soil or water through old plumbing/fixtures, although not a common source
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the earth’s crust. Lead is also a toxin that can be especially harmful to children under the age of six (6). Lead has been mined, processed, and used in commercial and household products for hundreds of years. In the past, lead was used in paint, gasoline, pottery, water pipes and other products.
- What Is lead toxicity?
Lead toxicity happens when too much lead gets into the body.
Lead toxicity usually occurs over a period of months or years through small amounts of exposure. Children can get lead toxicity by breathing or swallowing dust that contains lead or by putting lead-containing objects in their mouths, such as paint chips, certain foods/candies, jewelry, cultural medicine, etc.
When lead gets into the body, it can travel to all parts of the body and cause harm to the organs or tissues and cause lasting problems. Lead is more harmful to young children because their brains and nervous systems are still developing.
Lead toxicity can be treated, but any damage caused cannot be reversed.
- Why is lead toxicity dangerous and what are the symptoms?
Unfortunately, lead is a poison and harms people if it enters the body. Once lead enters an individual, there is no way to destroy it or make it harmless. Therefore, we must control the exposure children have to lead. Identifying where lead may be located in your child’s environment, and removing it quickly is the best way to prevent lead toxicity. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior.
No level of lead in the blood is considered safe. Studies have found that even small levels of lead in a child’s blood have been associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioral difficulties and learning problems. Very high levels of lead exposure can cause coma, seizures and death.”
Symptoms of lead toxicity are varied. They may affect many parts of the body. Most of the time, lead toxicity builds up slowly and is the result of repeated exposures to small quantities of lead. You may not notice any symptoms at first. Most children with lead in their blood have no symptoms and those symptoms that do develop are easy to miss or may seem related to other conditions. The higher the lead content in the body, the more severe the effects. Many of those effects are permanent.
Exposure to lead can cause:
- Developmental delay
- Learning difficulties
- Lower intelligence
- Language or speech delays
- Weight loss
- Sluggishness and fatigue
- Hearing loss
- Sleep problems
- Muscle and joint weakness
Lead toxicity can also damage an unborn child’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system. Pregnant women should talk with their doctor about getting tested, especially if they answer yes to any questions found on this “Prenatal Risk Evaluation Questionnaire”, available in English and Spanish.
If you think your child has been in contact with lead, contact your child’s health care provider. He or she can help you decide whether to test your child’s blood. A blood lead test is the best way to find out if your child has a high lead level. Your child’s health care provider can recommend needed services if your child has been exposed to lead.
- What causes lead toxicity?
Children develop toxic levels of lead in their blood when they breathe in lead dust or eat items that have lead in them or lead dust on them. Lead can be found in a variety of sources around the home. Below are the most common:
Where is Lead Found?
- Lead dust is the main cause of lead toxicity in children.
- Lead dust is created where surfaces containing lead, such as windows, doors, steps and porches painted with lead paint, rub together.
- Lead dust can gather on floors, in carpets, on toys and other objects that children may put into their mouths.
- Remodeling or repainting can also increase the amount of lead dust in your home.
- Lead dust from contaminated soil brought in from outside the home can also increase the amount of lead dust in the home.
- Chipping, peeling or chalking lead paint is a common source of lead dust and may be a hazard. Lead-based paint may also be found on toys, furniture and playground equipment.
- The older the home, the more likely it is that lead paint was used. This is especially true for homes built prior to 1950, but lead-based paints were widely used up to the time they were banned for residential purposes in 1978.
- Lead paint in good condition is usually not a problem, except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust, such as where windows and doors open and close.
- Soil and dirt around homes and apartment buildings may contain lead from lead-based paint that is chipping and falling from the building, or from car exhaust fumes.
- Children may come into contact with lead by playing in bare dirt.
- Lead in soil can cause contaminated dust to settle on garden plants in summer months. Rinse vegetables well and plant gardens away from old painted structures.
Other less common sources of lead exposure:
- Pottery – Glazes found on some ceramics, china and porcelain can contain lead that can leach into food served or stored in the pottery.
- Toys – You can find lead paint on older toys and on other products that have been made in other countries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides recall information of products.
- Foods, Candy, Cosmetics and Medicines – Lead is sometimes found in certain foods, such as candy imported from other countries (e.g. Mexico), certain spices, and in cosmetics and traditional herbal and folk remedies from other countries.
- Jewelry – Some children’s jewelry or antique jewelry may contain lead. These items may present a hazard if mouthed, chewed, or swallowed by children.
- Certain Occupations and Hobbies – People are exposed to lead while they are working in certain jobs or participating in certain hobbies and can bring that lead back into the home on their clothes and shoes. To prevent this from happening it is important to always wash, shower and change out of the clothes and shoes that have been worn before leaving work and after participating in the hobby. This keeps the lead from being brought into your home and vehicle. Those clothes should also be washed separately from the other family’s laundry.
Painting or sanding on industrial equipment
Stained glass (e.g. soldering)
Manufacturing (e.g. metal equipment parts, batteries, bullets)
Repair, renovation, remodeling, and/or painting of residential & commercial buildings
Shooting firearms during target practice
- Drinking water and plumbing (lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures & copper pipes soldered with lead can release lead into tap water)
- Folk remedies (Greta, Arzacon, Pay-loo-ah, Kohl, Kandu) and some herbal remedies (Ayurvedic)
- Is my child at risk for lead toxicity?
- Does your child receive benefits from Medicaid? If so, testing for lead at one (1) and again at two (2) years of age is required in the state of Indiana! Talk with your child’s health care provider about having your child tested.
- Children with high lead levels may NOT look or act differently. If your child is under the age of six (6), and you are concerned that they are at risk or have been exposed to lead, talk with your health care provider about testing.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your child is at risk. If you answer “yes” or “I don’t know” to any of the questions, insist on a blood test from your child’s health care provider.
- Do you live in a home built before 1978?
- Do you live in a home built before 1978 where there has been recent work like painting, renovations, or repairs?
- Does your child frequently visit or go to a day care in an older home?
- Does your child spend time with an adult whose job exposes him or her to lead?
(Examples: construction, painting, metal cutting or recycling)
- Does your child have a brother, sister or neighbor who has had lead poisoning?
- Were you or your child born in another country?
- Does your child put lots of things that are not food in his/her mouth?
- Have you moved to an older building since your child’s last blood lead test?
- How can I protect my child from lead toxicity?
The most important step that parents, doctors, and others can take to keep children safe is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs!
You can take simple measures to minimize your child’s risk of lead exposure. For example:
- Get your child tested for lead toxicity, even if he or she seems healthy. Talk with your child’s health care provider.
- Check your house.
- If your home or apartment building was built before 1978, talk with your local health department about getting your home tested.
- Keep your children away from old windows, old doors, old porches, and areas with chipping, flaking or peeling paint.
- Do not allow your child to play in the bare dirt and dirt next to your old home. If possible, lay sod on areas of bare soil or cover bare spots with grass seed, mulch or wood chips.
3. Keep your home clean
- Follow safe cleaning steps to help keep your home clean and reduce your child’s risk of exposure. Use these tips to clean your windows, doors, floors, porches, stairs and child play areas.
- Put on gloves. If you do not have rubber gloves, wash your hands well after cleaning.
- Use the right cleaners and disposable supplies. Use soapy cleaners or products made to remove lead dust.
- Remove paint chips first. Window areas and porches often have peeling paint and lead dust. Pick up visible chips and dispose of them in a plastic bag.
- Always wet-mop floors and window sills. Do not broom lead dust. Dispose of cloths after wiping each area. If using a mop. Replace water frequently.
- Don’t use a vacuum unless it is a HEPA vacuum. It will spread lead dust into the air you breathe.
- Rinse after cleaning. Use clean water and a new mop head or fresh paper towels to wipe away suds.
- Always empty wash water down a toilet.
- Repeat these steps often when dirt and dust appear on floors, porches, window wells, window sills, stairs and children’s play areas.
- Taking shoes off at the door can help reduce tracking in contaminated dirt.
- Be careful not to bring lead dust into your home on the clothes or shoes from your work or a hobby. Before coming into the house, always wash, shower and change out of the clothes and shoes before leaving work and after participating in the hobby.
4. Teach your child to wash their hands.
- Wash pacifiers and toys regularly and keep them away from areas with chipping paint.
5. Eat healthy.
- Give your child a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods that are high in calcium and iron and Vitamin C. Regular meals and good nutrition might help lower lead absorption in a child’s body.
- Don’t let children eat food that has fallen on the floor.
- Feed your children at a clean table or highchair.
6. Use cold flushed water.
- If you have older plumbing containing lead pipes or fittings, run your cold water for several minutes before using, especially in the morning or after it has been sitting in the pipes unused.
- Always use cold water for making baby formula and for cooking.
7. Learn more about lead-safe practices before painting or making repairs and renovations.
- Never dry scrape or sand old paint.
- More information about lead-safe practices at https://www.epa.gov/lead.
- Should I worry about lead in my water?
How does lead get into drinking water in your home?
- Lead in drinking water is not a common source of lead toxicity in Indiana.
- Since you cannot see, taste, or smell lead in water, testing is the only way to find out if there is lead in your drinking water.
- Lead can be found in brass fixtures and fittings, or in solder used in copper plumbing.
- Before 1987, solder that contained lead was used to join copper pipes in houses and apartment buildings.
- Until 2014, plumbing could have up to 8 percent lead content.
- Lead in pipes or plumbing can dissolve into water, especially if the water is corrosive.
- Lead levels are usually highest after the water has been sitting in the pipes overnight or for more than 6 hours.
- Typically, lead levels decrease after water is run for about a minute. This means that there is likely to be less lead in the water as faucets are used during the day.
- Service lines (a 3-5 ft section of pipe connecting the water main to the pipe leading to your home) may also contain lead
Tip! It is always a good idea to use cold tap water for drinking and cooking. Run your water until it feels cold before using it for drinking and cooking. This will flush any water that has high levels of lead because it has been sitting in the pipes.
Find information here about the Indiana Finance Authority’s Lead Sampling Program, designed to help Public Schools assess for the presence of lead drinking water within their facilities.
- What if my child's blood lead level is high?
If your child has a high blood lead level, it is important to make sure you:
- Keep appointments with your child's doctor for follow-up blood lead tests.
- Keep your child away from lead hazards. Call your local health department or the IDOH Lead and Healthy Homes Division for help with questions.
- Feed your child healthy meals and snacks. Foods high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C are especially important. See Fight Lead Poisoning With A Healthy Diet.
- Provide a variety of activities, such as Head Start or preschools, play groups, or summer camps for your child. Enrich your child with age appropriate toys, games, and books.
- If you think your child may have problems with learning, with their behavior or meeting their developmental milestones, talk to your child’s health care provider. Your child can be evaluated to see if they need additional resources and help with learning or other developmental or behavioral problems.
- What do I do about lead that is found in my home?
The most important thing to know is that lead in your home is fixable. You can make big and small changes around your home to protect your family.
- Any lead hazards identified during the risk assessment should be fixed through abatement. Examples of abatement include when lead hazards are permanently fixed through paint removal, the replacement of components of your residence, or through the enclosure of the hazardous surface, among other methods.
- Until abatement is possible, you can take steps to immediately reduce your family’s exposure to lead. Learn about how to make your home lead-safe here.
- Lead abatement work must be done by a licensed contractor. Find one here.
- Abatement can be expensive, but resources are available for those who qualify. Apply for financial assistance at the application found here.
- CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program – CDC’s web page is filled with lead-related resources and information for parents & caregivers, healthcare providers and public health professionals
- EPA Lead Information – United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead webpage
- HUD Healthy Homes – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Healthy Homes Program, addresses multiple childhood diseases and injuries in the home.
- Indiana Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222
- Consumer Product Safety Commission Product Recalls – Provides information on products being recalled for safety concerns related to lead
- CDC’s Milestone Tracker App – Free app available on iOS and Android devices to help track your child’s milestones from age 2 months to 5 years.
- EPA – Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home – Real Estate Disclosure – (Available in Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Arabic, Somali)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (Translated into Spanish)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (English)