Quick Facts on Lead
- Lead is a naturally occurring metal that has been used in paint, glaze, traditional remedies, pipes, solder, gasoline, and other common household goods.
- Lead becomes a problem when it enters the body, most commonly by being eaten or inhaled.
- The most common source of lead in your home is lead paint, which may be present in homes built before 1978.
- Lead is most commonly eaten by young children when the lead dust or paint chips contaminate their play area. If there is lead dust on the ground, it is very easy for children to get that dust on their hands and then put their hands in their mouth.
- Lead can be in the air if someone is removing the paint from the walls or doing renovations. If the lead dust is airborne, it can be inhaled and expose those in your home.
- There is no safe amount of lead to have in your body, so any exposure to your child should be eliminated.
- Lead exposure can cause issues with brain development in young children, which can cause reduced IQ and behavioral problems.
- Lead poisoning often does not have any signs or symptoms until many years later after the damage has been done.
- The damage caused by lead poisoning is irreversible, so taking steps to avoid lead exposure is the highest priority.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about having your child tested for lead. This is the only way to know for sure if your child has been exposed.
- Just because you do not live in an older home does not mean your child is not at risk. If your child spends time in an older home, they are still at risk.
Signs and Symptoms of Lead Poisoning
Most children with lead poisoning do not show any outward symptoms unless blood-lead levels become extremely high; consequently, many cases of children with lead poisoning go undiagnosed and untreated. However, some symptoms of poisoning include:
Because the symptoms of lead poisoning are similar to flu or other viruses, the only way to know if a child is poisoned is to have a doctor perform a simple blood test.
Health Effect of Lead Exposure
The effects of lead exposure are often not seen until the child is older because lead affects brain development. A child who has been exposed to lead may appear healthy even though there is a problem.
Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health and cause well-documented adverse effects such as:
- Damage to the brain and nervous system
- Slowed growth and development
- Learning and behavior problems
- Hearing and speech problems
This can cause:
- Lower IQ
- Decreased ability to pay attention
- Underperformance in school
Sources of Lead
Lead Paint: Older paint on the inside and outside of homes may contain lead. It is best to keep you children away from chipping and peeling paint. Painted window sills can be a place where lead dust from paint can accumulate, keep this area clean and prevent your children from playing there.
Ceramic Cookware: The glaze and paint used on traditional ceramic cookware sometimes contains lead. Consider the risks before using these types of containers for serving or preparing food.
Foreign Candy and Spices: Candy and spices from other countries may contain lead. Consider how much of these things your child is eating.
Traditional Remedies: Be careful with these remedies, since some of the ingredients used to make them may be contaminated with lead. Ask your provider if the remedies are safe before giving them to your child.
Jewelry: Old and new jewelry can still be made with lead. Keep these items away from young children.
Toys: Older painted toys or painted toys from other countries may have lead in the paint. Consider replacing these toys with newer, safer ones that are not painted.
Jobs: There are jobs that require someone to work with lead or lead containing products. If your work involves lead, make sure you shower and change your clothes after you finish.
Hobbies: Hobbies may increase your exposure to lead, such as: casting or soldering, using glazes or paints that contain lead, home renovations where lead paint is present, fishing weights, or target practice with a firearm.
- Talk to your doctor about your child’s risk for lead and if having them tested is a good idea. This is a good opportunity for you and your child’s doctor to have a conversation about lead exposure risks in your child’s life. A lead test is covered by the Oregon Health Plan and is required for children 1 and 2 years old.
- Keep your child from eating paint or paint chips. It is important to deal with any chipping or peeling paint in your house to prevent your child from eating the paint chips. It is also important to not allow your children to chew or play on painted surfaces if they are painted with lead paint - one area that may have lead paint is your window sill.
- There is generally a greater risk of lead paint if your house was built before 1978. Use Property Data Online and search by address to find out the age of your home.
- If there is lead paint in your house, make sure you keep your house free of dust and use damp dusting to prevent the lead particles from becoming airborne. The simple task of damp dusting can significantly reduce the amount of lead dust in your house. For recommendations about damp dusting and cleaning in a house that has lead paint, see "Cleaning to Remove Lead Dust."
- Get a test kit from your local hardware store to test for lead to see if it is present in your house. This is a great way to find out if there are any problem areas in your house.
- Wash your child’s hands often to reduce their exposure to lead. Keeping their hands clean can help reduce the lead they put in their mouths.
- Eating a healthy diet will help your children be healthier and reduce their lead exposure risk. To reduce the effects of lead, make sure your kids eat foods with calcium, iron and vitamin C. Since foreign candy can be a source of lead, try to limit the amount your kids eat. Talk to your healthcare provider about a healthy diet if you need ideas of what your kids should be eating. More information about nutrition can also be found on the CDC website.
- If the outside of your house is painted with lead paint, don’t allow your children to play in the dirt next to your house. It is best for them to avoid playing in exposed dirt and stick to grassy areas.
- Be careful using ceramic cookware since it may have lead in the glaze. If you test your cookware and find it to have no lead, that does not guarantee it to be safe. If your cookware becomes worn or starts to chip, test it again.
- Remove your shoes before coming inside your house. This will reduce the amount of lead dust that can be brought into your house from outside.
- Water: Public water systems are routinely checked according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule. If you use a public water system and are worried about your water, you can look at the yearly report for water testing conducted by the system operators or have your water tested. If your water comes from a well, you can have your water tested locally to ensure its safety. If you are concerned about lead in your water, and the water has not been used for more than six hours, let the water run on cold for one to two minutes before getting water for drinking or cooking. It is recommended to drink and cook with cold water because there is a reduced chance of lead in cold water versus hot water.
Additional Resources on Lead
Below are links to the water quality reports for major local public water systems: