Lead Poisoning Is a Real and Present Danger

The threat of exposure to high levels of lead remains real for Americans living and working in unsafe conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children living in 4 million U.S. households are being exposed to high levels of lead.

Research indicates about 500,000 U.S. children between the ages of 1 and 5 have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the reference level at which the CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over a period of months or years. Children younger than 6 are especially vulnerable because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Furthermore, the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning often don't appear until dangerous amounts of lead have accumulated. Low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Where Does Exposure Occur?

Typically, children are poisoned by lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings (built before 1978). Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil.

Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations or work in auto repair shops also may be exposed to lead. Eating or drinking from dishes or glasses that contain lead poses a risk, too. Lead is a concern for pregnant women because it can result in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth.

Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC sponsor National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Oct. 20-26, 2019. The annual event focuses on the many ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead and prevent its serious health effects.

Can You Minimize Risks?

There is no safe blood level of lead, so it is important to take steps to prevent exposure to lead. The EPA says simple steps, such as keeping your home clean and well-maintained, can go a long way in preventing lead exposure. The EPA also recommends you:

  • Get tested; pediatricians and local health departments can test children's blood to measure lead levels
  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration
  • Address water damage quickly and completely
  • Keep your home clean and dust free; household dust from deteriorating lead-based paint or contaminated soil can be major sources of lead exposure for children
  • Let the water run to flush the tap, use only cold water to prepare food and drinks and use a water filter; lead in older pipes can leach into drinking water
  • Teach children to keep their hands and toys out of their mouths and wash their hands frequently
  • Eat well; prevention begins with a healthy diet rich in calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin C
  • Review this checklist to identify sources of lead