What is Lead Poisoning?

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning is the presence of too much lead in the body. It is the most common preventable pediatric health problem in the United States today.  It is caused by exposure to lead that is either eaten or inhaled, in the form of dust. The body carries the lead in the blood to soft tissues and bones, where it can be stored for many days. Lead harms several organs, including the nervous system and kidneys.

Many things in our everyday lives put infants, children and adults in danger of lead poisoning. Lead-based paint was used in many homes built before 1978. The older the home, the more likely that windows, cupboards, doors, porches, and outdoor surfaces contain lead-based paint. Lead dust can come from repairing areas with lead paint, opening and closing windows, and through normal wear and tear of painted areas. Lead dust settles to the floor and gets on children’s hands and toys. It enters their bodies when they put their hands or toys into their mouth.  For more information read the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Sources of Childhood Lead Poisoning. (link to www.idph.state.il.us/HealthWellness/leadfs_sources.pdf)

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

A lead poisoning has no obvious signs, therefore a child may seem healthy.  Some children with lead poisoning do have the following symptoms:  stomach aches, decreased appetite, hyperactivity, sleeping problems or irritability.  Later symptoms may include vomiting, weight loss, dizziness and even convulsions.  Lead poisoning can cause a number of serious health concerns including developmental disabilities.

For more information, read Childhood Lead Poisoning or The Medical Consequences of Lead Poisoning

When should my child be tested for lead poisoning?

Many children have blood lead tests as part of their regular care by a doctor or clinic.  Some children may be required to have blood lead tests to enroll in daycare, head start, pre-school or kindergarten.   These tests are important for children who live or spend time in older houses which may have lead paint.

Children should be tested for lead poisoning at one and two years of age or more often depending on their contact with sources of lead.

How Can I Determine if my Child Should be Tested?

  • Does the child now or in the recent past live in or often visit a house built before 1950 with peeling or chipping paint?  This could include a day care, preschool, or home of a relative.
  • Does the child now or in the recent past live in or often visit a house built before1978 that had been remodeled within the last year?
  • Does the child have a brother or sister (or playmate) with lead poisoning?
  • Does the child live with an adult whose job or hobby involves lead?
  • Does the child’s family use any home remedies that may contain lead?

If you answered no to every question, this means your child is at LOW RISK for lead poisoning. If you answered yes or don’t know the answer to any of these questions, this means your child is at HIGH RISK for lead poisoning.  The only way to know for sure is to have your child tested.  Talk to your child’s doctor to arrange for a blood test.  Show the doctor this questionnaire so he or she knows why your child is at risk.

How do I get my Child Tested for Lead Poisoning?

Ask your family doctor or Pediatrician to do a blood lead test on your child at 12 month and 24 months of age.  Medicaid insurance will pay for the cost of the test if your child is enrolled.  If you have private insurance, coverage may vary.

If the family doctor or Pediatrician does not perform blood lead tests in their office, he or she may refer you to a laboratory or the health department to have the blood lead test.  Macoupin County Public Health Department screens children in the WIC Program at 12 and 24 months.

If the first blood lead test is done with a capillary sample (finger stick) and the analysis of the sample shows an elevated blood lead level, it will be very important for you to have your child tested with a venous blood sample to confirm the results.  This can be done by contacting your doctor to receive an order to take your child to a hospital lab. The Health Department Lead Program Nurse will contact you to let you know that you need to do this.

Call Maple Street Clinic at (217) 839-1526 or Morgan Street Clinic at (217) 854-3692 if you have further questions about getting your child tested for lead poisoning.

What can I do to protect my child?

  1. Wash your child’s hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often
  2. Test the soil your child plays in
  3. Make sure children eat healthy foods and snacks such as lean meat, chicken, turkey and fish, milk, low-fat cheese, yogurt, broccoli, collard and turnip greens, oranges or grapefruits, orange or grapefruit juice, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Low-fat milk and foods are best for children over the age of two.
  4. Have your home checked for lead hazards
  5. Keep floors, window sills and other surfaces dust and dirt free
  6. Take off shoes when entering the house
  7. Talk to your landlord about fixing peeling or chipping paint.
  8. Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling or renovating.
  9. Don’t use a power sander, open flame torch, heat gun above 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, dry scraper, or sandpaper on painted surfaces that may contain lead.
  10. Use very cold tap water for drinking and cooking.
  11. Learn how to remove lead-based paint safely.

What can I do to make a lead-safe home?

Certain housekeeping methods can reduce the amount of lead dust in your home.  To learn about these methods read the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Housekeeping Tips to Reduce Lead Exposure.

For more information check out:

Get the Lead Out –Intervention 

Get the Lead Out – Prevention 

Get the Lead Out – Renovation 

A Landlord’s Guide for Working Safely with Lead