Frequently Asked Questions

What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a heavy metal that is a neurotoxin, which means that it can harm the brain. It also harms bones and internal organs. Lead is a poison that affects virtually every system in the body. It occurs when too much lead gets into the body. Lead poisoning usually occurs through ingestion, which means that the lead is unintentionally swallowed. It is a serious but preventable health problem.

Why is lead a problem?

Lead is harmful to the developing brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children. It can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys and nervous system; even can slow a child's development and cause learning and behavior problems. Decreased intelligence / ability to learn; increased behavior problem; increased childhood health problems, such as anemia, speech and language delays, hearing problems, kidney damage, seizure, and in rare cases of extremely high levels, even death; decreased school performance; increased juvenile delinquency; decreased health and economic status of the future adult population.

How does lead get into the body?

Lead poisoning is caused by swallowing or breathing lead. Children are most frequently lead poisoned by household lead paint dust. Lead dust is created by chipping or peeling paint, opening and closing lead painted windows, or repairs or renovations to lead painted surfaces. This lead dust rests on surfaces which children touch and then clings to their hands and toys. Children ingest this lead dust when they put their hands or toys into their mouths. Children are also lead poisoned by mouthing lead painted surfaces and eating lead paint chips. In rare instances, children are lead poisoned by lead contaminated water and soil. If your child eats dirt or other non-food objects, this may increase the chances of getting lead into his or her body.

How much lead does it takes to get lead poisoning?

Blood lead levels equal or higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter of whole blood (µg/dL).

Who can get lead poisoning?

Anyone can be lead poisoned. Lead poisoning can occur regardless of financial, socio-economical or cultural status. Young children, between the ages of 6 months and six years of age are at the highest risk. Children are more at risk for lead exposure than adults. Especially, children spend time in older housing (built before 1978) are at highest risk for lead poisoning. Old housing may have deteriorating or disturbed lead-based paint and lead – contaminated soil and dust. Adults who work in jobs or hobbies where they work with lead may bring the lead dust home on their clothes or equipment and expose household members.

Who's most at risk for lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning is especially dangerous for children under the age of six because their rapidly growing and developing bodies absorb more lead. It can cause permanent learning and behavioral problems that make it difficult for children to succeed in school. This is also the age during which hand-to-mouth activity is a child's way of exploring, and children spend more time crawling on the floor where they can pick up dust containing lead on their hands.

Pregnant women are also at risk. Lead can pass through the placenta and harm a prenatal child. Elevated blood lead levels in pregnant women can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or low birth weight.

Do people with lead poisoning have symptoms?

Children with lead poisoning often have no symptoms. The only way to tell is to have your child tested. A child can be poisoned and show no outward signs. When there are symptoms, they can include diarrhea, stomach cramps, lethargy, vomiting, or seizures in some severe cases.

What are common sources of lead?

Lead-based paint (pre-1978): most children get lead poisoned from ingesting deteriorating lead paint in homes built before 1978. Lead-based paint may have been used both inside and outside of a home. Children may eat paint chips or chew on the surfaces of cribs, highchairs, walls, doors, windows, floors, stairs, woodwork, or railings.

Lead-contaminated soil: lead has made its way into the soil around some homes through two routes: paint and environmental emissions. Lead may be in the soil where children play, especially close to factories, highways or major cross streets. Children like to play outside, and many love to play in the dirt. When kids play in the dirt, they inevitably get their hands and toys dirty. If hands or toys with lead-contaminated soil on them make their way into a child's mouth, then the child can be exposed.

Lead-contaminated dust from paint or soil: dust from paint and soil accumulates in and around homes, it also settles on toys, fingers, and other things children put in their mouths. Other industrial activities may also result in localized exposures to lead, including burning solid water in incinerators and sandblasting or demolishing bridges and other lead – painted metal structures.

Drinking water: lead is typically not found in the drinking water at the reservoirs. Lead normally enters the drinking water from service lines, solder in copper piping, fountains and coolers, and brass faucet fixtures. Until a few decades ago, lead pipe was widely used for the service lines and connections that carry water from street mains to houses. Lead-based solder was used to join standard copper water pipes until 1988, when lead solder was outlawed. Even today, new brass and bronze faucets can legally be as much as 8 percent lead by weight. These new faucets normally leach lead during the first five years after installation. The lead is leached out while the water sits in the pipes and fixtures.

Why should I be concerned about lead in drinking water?

Even small amounts of lead can cause learning and behavior problems in children. At very high blood levels lead poisoning can be fatal.

Children under the age of six and the developing fetus are especially vulnerable to health problems from exposure to lead, including elevated lead in drinking water.

Infants who drink formula prepared with lead?contaminated water are especially at risk because their brains are rapidly developing and because they consume large volumes of formula relative to their body size.

How does lead get into my drinking water?

Some parts of the plumbing system may contain lead. These include most faucets, and some solders, fittings, connectors, and pipes. In older homes the service connector pipe from the water main to the home may be made of lead. Drinking water that comes in contact with these materials, which may be present in your home or the city’s water distribution system may be contaminated with lead.

Lead is rarely found in source water (groundwater or surface water) used for drinking water.

What can I do to decrease lead in my drinking water?

Flush your water pipes before drinking or drawing water for cooking by running the water until it reaches the coldest temperature possible. This may take only a few seconds if water use in your home was heavy recently or it could take longer than a few minutes if the water sat in the pipes overnight (5 minutes).

Use only the cold water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula.

How do I know if my tap water is contaminated with lead?

The only way to know is to test your water. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in water.

Testing the water is especially important for residents who live in apartments.

Are faucet or pitcher water filter devices effective at removing lead?

Some faucet?mounted devices effectively remove both soluble and particulate lead, but most pour?though water pitcher devices are not effective at removing the particulate lead.

Parental occupations and hobbies: children may be exposed to high lead levels when workers take home lead on their clothing or when they bring scrap or waste material home from work. Many potential hazardous activities, like furniture refinishing and making stained glass, indoor firing ranges, doing home repairs and remodeling, and making pottery, are associated with lead exposure.

Other sources of childhood lead poisoning include:

  • Imported food in cans that are sealed with lead solder i.e., Turmeric spice
  • Traditional cosmetics containing lead including Kohl and Surma
  • Traditional home remedies including Azarcon, Greta, and Pay-loo-ah
  • Some imported toys and jewelry. For questions regarding toy safety, please call the Consumer Product Safety Commission Hotline at 1 800 638 2772
  • Some imported candies or food, especially from Mexico, containing chili or tamarind.
  • Handmade ceramic tableware, especially imported ceramics decorated with lead-based glaze or paint.
  • Hobbies that include using lead-based materials; i.e., Fishing weights and Gun pellets
  • Other sources

How does lead harm a child?

Very severe lead exposure in children can cause coma, convulsions and even death. Lower levels cause adverse effects on the central nervous system, kidney, hematopoietic system. Health effects can include reduced IQ, hyperactivity, reduced stature, reduced hearing, and headaches.

How do I know if my child has lead poisoning?

There are often no signs or symptoms. Most children with lead poisoning do not look or act sick. Symptoms, if present, may be confused with common childhood complaints, such as stomachache, crankiness, headaches, or loss of appetite. A blood lead test is the only way to know if a child has lead poisoning. Children at risk of lead poisoning should be tested at both one and two years of age. Additionally, children three to six years old, at risk, who were not tested at ages one and two years old, should have a blood lead test.

Where can I have my child tested for lead poisoning?

Detection of an elevated blood lead level is by administering a simple blood test. Your doctor, health care provider, local health clinic, health department or lead poisoning prevention program can test your child's blood for lead.

Children who receive service from Medicaid are eligible for free testing. Private health insurance plans also usually pay for the test.

Can lead poisoning be treated?

Yes, but the best approach is to stop your children from coming into contact with lead in the first place. The most common way to treat lead poisoning in children is to find the lead source and remove it from their environment. Few children have high enough levels of lead in their blood that they require a medicine called a chelating agent. A chelating agent is a type of medicine that helps to remove the lead from the child's body.

What are some simple steps to protect my child from lead poisoning?

  • Allow cold water to run for a few minutes in the morning before using it or drinking, cooking, or mixing formula in case there may be lead in your household pipes. Do not use hot water from the tap for drinking or in food preparation.
  • Wash children's hands and toys often, especially before meals, naps, and bedtime.
  • Remove recalled toys and toy jewelry immediately from children.
  • Avoid giving children imported candy or snacks containing chili or tamarind.
  • Feed your child regular meals with a diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C and low in fat.
  • Avoid using handmade, older, or imported dishes for food or drink preparation, storage, serving, unless you are sure they do not contain lead.
  • Wipe clean or taking off shoes before entering the home
  • Avoid using imported home remedies or cosmetics that contain lead. Don't use imported foods that come in cans with wide seams
  • Vacuum carpets frequently to reduce household dust, if lead based paint is on any surface inside or outside of the home - wet mop and wash surfaces often
  • When painting or remodeling, always follow "lead-safe" work practices. Use plastic sheeting on the ground and furniture while working; wet surfaces before sanding and scraping; wet mop the area with an all-purpose cleaner at the end of the day.
  • Don't take lead home from your job:
  • Change into clean clothes and shoes before getting into your car or going home.
  • Bag dirty clothes and shoes.
  • Wash your face and hands with soap and water before leaving work.
  • Take a shower and wash your hair as soon as you get home. It is better to shower at work if you can.
  • Wash work clothes separately from all other clothes. Run the empty washing machine again after the work clothes to rinse the lead out.

How can healthy foods protect my child from lead poisoning?

Good nutrition helps children's bodies resist lead poisoning; empty stomachs will absorb more lead. Feed your children a diet high in calcium, iron, and low in fat. Foods high in fat, such as potato chips, can make it easier for the body to absorb lead. Serve three meals and two healthy snacks to children each day including:

  • Eat calcium-rich food ( milk, cheese, yogurt, cooked greens, tofu, broccoli)
  • Eat Iron-rich foods (lean meats, beans, iron-fortified cereals and grains, dried fruit, and dark green vegetables, such as spinach)
  • Eat Vitamin C rich foods (fruit juices, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, kiwi, and strawberries)

Can adults get lead poisoning?

Yes, but the amount of lead that would have to be ingested or inhaled by an adult or older child is much greater than that needed to cause damage to a child under age six. Generally, most adults are not at risk, unless they work with lead in some capacity. Some of the types of work that might expose an adult to lead would include working in lead smelting and refining, battery manufacturing, the construction industry, doing painting and carpentry on older homes. These are just a few examples of occupations which might expose workers to lead.

Pregnant women are at risk. Lead can pass through the placenta and harm a prenatal child. Elevated blood lead levels in pregnant women can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or low birth weight.

What is a blood test for lead?

A blood test is used to determine if there are high levels of lead in the body. Children less than six years should be tested for lead. Remember, the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning is to have their blood tested.

How can I have my home inspected for Lead?

To find an EPA-Certified Lead Assessor and Abatement firm in your area, call Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality at (225) 219-3181 or call the Louisiana Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at (504) 219-4413 to get a list of licensed lead inspectors. Owners can also get a list of licensed risk assessors who will test their property for lead and identify the urgent lead hazards that must be corrected for Interim Control.

How can I get more information?

CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4770 Buford Highway (Mail stop F-40)
Atlanta, GA 30341
Tel.: 770-488-7330

The CDC develops programs and policies to prevent childhood lead poisoning, educates the public and health care providers, provides funding to state and local health departments, and supports research to determine the effectiveness of prevention efforts at the federal, state, and local levels.

EPA National Lead Information Center

422 South Clinton Avenue,
Rochester, NY 14620
Tel.: 1-800-424-LEAD (5323)

The EPA National Lead Information Center provides information to help parents protect their children from poisoning in the home and can furnish a list of state and local contacts. Written materials and recordings are available in English and Spanish.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control (OHHLHC)

451 7th Street S.W., Washington, DC 20410
Telephone: (202) 708-1112

The Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control (OHHLHC) provides information to reduce lead-based paint hazards, public outreach and technical assistance, and conducts technical studies to help protect children and their families from health and safety hazards in the home.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provides the safety of consumer products information – such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals. It announces recalls of products that present a significant risk to consumers.

Louisiana Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (LCLPPP)

Louisiana Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
1450 Poydras Street, Suite 1635
New Orleans, LA 70112
Tel.: 888-293-7020 Fax: 225-242-0496

Louisiana Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (LCLPPP) provides information to public and private to prevent lead poisoning by reducing children's exposure to lead hazards in the environment. It also promotes early detection of lead poisoning through screening and provides services to lead poisoned children, their families, their health-care providers and pregnant women.

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