Lead

Lead is a naturally occurring metal, and exposure often goes unnoticed because people may have no symptoms and appear healthy.  Lead can enter the bloodstream through breathing or swallowing. 

Children are at higher risk to the effects of lead because their bodies absorb more of it than adults do. Their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead, and exposure can result in difficulty learning, behavioral problems, hearing issues, slowed growth, and headaches. Younger children are at increased risk for lead exposure as they often put their hands or objects in their mouth that have lead contaminated dust or soil. Adults can also be at risk for lead exposure through their occupation, such as mining, construction, or welding, or by participating in hobbies where lead may be used, such as making ceramics, target shooting, or fishing. Lead exposure in adults can result in cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and the incidence of hypertension, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems. Pregnant women who are exposed to lead can be concerning because it can result in exposure to the developing baby. 

It is important for individuals, parents and caregivers, healthcare providers, and public health officials to be aware of potential lead sources and prevent lead exposure before it occurs.  Removal of a lead hazard from the environment is the most effective way to ensure an individual is not exposed to lead. 

Lead poisoning is preventable! Protect yourself and your family. There is no known safe level of lead!

About lead

Adult lead poisoning commonly occurs in the workplace. Workers may breathe lead dust and fumes or swallow lead dust while eating, drinking or smoking on-the job. Adults can also be exposed to lead during certain hobbies (e.g. making ceramics, target shooting, etc.) where lead is used.

Children are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning. Children’s small bodies absorb more lead than adult bodies do and the lead harms them more because their bodies are still growing. Children also are more likely to absorb lead dust because they place hands and other objects in their mouths.

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Lead information

Children and lead

Young children can be exposed to lead by:

  • Eating lead-based paint chips
  • Chewing on objects painted with lead-based paint
  • Swallowing house dust or soil that contains lead
  • Water from leaded pipes or fixtures
  • Consuming imported items such as candies, traditional medicines, and herbs
  • Industrial sources
  • Parents or caregivers bringing lead home from jobs or hobbies that lead may be used
  • Some imported toys and jewelry

For additional information visit CDC’s All Children Can Be Exposed to Lead

Symptoms

Many children with lead poisoning do not show any obvious signs of being sick. Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Stomachaches
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hyperactivity
  • Sleeping problems
  • Irritability
  • Hearing loss
  • Constipation
  • Seizures

Because these symptoms are like those of other childhood problems, lead poisoning is sometimes mistaken for other ailments. It is important to eliminate lead risks at home and to have young children tested for lead exposure.

Children with elevated blood lead levels, even at low levels, can potentially harm a child’s health and cause adverse effects such as:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Learning disabilities
  • Lowered IQ
  • Behavior problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Speech delay
  • Hearing imparement

Convulsions, coma, and death can occur at very high lead levels.

Testing

A blood lead test is the only way to find out if a child has lead poisoning. Contact your medical provider to schedule a blood lead test. Blood lead testing requires a small amount of blood to be taken from the finger, heel, or arm, which is then tested for lead. Two types of blood tests may be used:

  • A finger-prick or heel-prick (capillary) test is usually the first step to determining if a child has lead in their blood. While finger-prick tests can provide fast results, they can also produce higher results if lead on the skin is captured in the sample. For this reason, a finger-prick test that shows a blood lead level at or above the CDC’s blood reference value (3.5 micrograms per deciliter) is usually followed by a second test to confirm.
  • A venous blood draw takes blood from the child’s vein. This type of test can take a few days to receive results and is often used to confirm blood lead levels seen in the first capillary test. 

For additional information, visit the CDC-Testing Children for Lead Poisoning

Elevated Blood Level Test

Follow up! If your child has an elevated blood lead level, work with your medical provider for information on how to lower your child’s lead level. Flow-up testing should be scheduled until the lead levels drop to acceptable levels. 

5 things you can do to help lower your child’s lead level.  

 

 

Sources of Lead Exposure

You may be exposed to lead in many ways, including:

Spending time in areas where lead-based paints have been used and are deteriorating.

Housing built before 1978 is more likely to contain lead-based paint.  A room might be painted over with safe paint, and if maintained, it may not be a hazard. Deteriorating surfaces with lead-based paint, such as those that are peeling, chipping, or cracking, should be repaired immediately by an EPA-certified contractor. In addition, areas that are frequently used, such as windows, doors, stairs, railings, handrails, and porches, should be maintained to prevent the original lead-based paint from flaking off and creating dust.

Lead in jobs, hobbies, or other activities.

Clothing worn for work in occupations, for hobbies, or for other activities outside the home where exposure to lead may occur may bring contamination into the house. Before coming home, shower, change clothes, and launder clothes separate from the rest of the family’s clothing.

Jobs that may involve exposure to lead hazards include:

  • Abatement and clean-up of residential and commercial buildings, steel structures, or environmental sites
  • Demolition of buildings and structures
  • Manufacturing of products containing or coated with lead (e.g., metal equipment parts, batteries, bullets, circuits).
  • Fabrication of artistic or individual products (e.g., mixing or applying leaded ceramic glaze, glasswork, and stained glass windows).
  • Melting of products containing lead (e.g., secondary smelting [scrap metal], incinerators, foundries/casting)
  • Painting or sanding industrial equipment and steel structures (e.g., bridges and water towers)
  • Industrial mineral processing activities, such as mining, extraction, or smelting
  • Recycling materials (e.g., stripping electronics)
  • Repair, renovation, remodeling, and/or painting of residential and commercial buildings.
  • Use of firearms or working at a firing range (e.g., law enforcement, military, private industry, and training).
  • Welding and cutting (small scale melting)

Hobbies that may involve exposure to lead hazards

  • Casting or soldering (e.g., bullets, fishing weights, stained glass) 
  • Mixing or applying glaze or pigments containing lead
  • Conducting home renovation, repair, remodeling, or painting (in structures built prior to 1978)
  • Shooting firearms during target practice (link to bullet reloading, outdoor shooting ranges, indoor shooting ranges)
  • Drinking home-distilled liquids (e.g., moonshine)

Consuming complementary, alternative, or traditional medicines or using cosmetics or ceremonial powders that may contain lead. 

Lead in soil

Soil can be contaminated with lead due to

  • Lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes-contamination in the soil can occur from old paint chips falling to the ground or from past renovation activities mixing with soil near the house or other structures.
  • Leaded gasoline, which was in vehicles until the late 1980s, can leach into the soil.
  • Old equipment near gardens may leach lead into the soil.
  • Historic mine sites and areas close to industrial sites. Industrial sites, such as lead smelters, auto repair facilities, ect., can release lead into the environment and contaminate the soil.
  • Pesticides and fertilizers-lead and arsenic were once used in the production of pesticides and fertilizer.
  • Lead in Soil Factsheet
  • Lead at Historical Mining Sites Factsheet

Lead in Foods, Cosmetics, and Medicines

Products such as spices, cosmetics, and traditional medicines imported from other countries may have harmful levels of lead. You cannot tell if a product contains lead by looking at or tasting it. Examples of products that may contain lead:

  • Candies can contain spices such as chili powder and tamarind that have been contaminated with lead. Lead can get into the candy when drying, storing, and grinding the ingredients are done improperly. Ink from plastic or paper candy wrappers may also contain lead that leaches or seeps into the imported candy.
  • Spices brought in from the countries of Georgia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and Morocco are known to have the highest lead concentrations.
  • Ba-baw-san is a Chinese herbal remedy that may contain lead. It is used to treat colic pain or to calm young children.
  • Greta and Azarcon (also known as alarcon, coral, luiga, maria luisa, or rueda) are traditional Hispanic medicines taken for an upset stomach (empacho), constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting. They are also used on teething babies.Greta and Azarcon are both orange powders with lead contents as high as 90%.
  • Kohl, kajal, al-Kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, and kwalli, which are all cosmetics, often contain high levels of lead and other metals.
  • Sindoor, which can be used as a food additive or cosmetic, may contain up to 87% lead.
  • Check for product recalls and safety alerts for lead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Lead in cultural items, food, etc. factsheet

Lead in consumer products

Lead can be found in some consumer products made in other countries and then imported into the United States. Lead can also be found in collectible items no longer produced in the U.S. but passed down through generations. Examples of products that may contain lead:

  • Lead may be found in the paint on toys, which was banned in the U.S. but is still widely used in other countries. Lead may also be found on older toys made in the U.S.  before the ban or antique toys and collectibles passed down through generations.
  • Lead may be used to make jewelry and if swallowed or put in the month, can be hazardous to children.
  • Contact the S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website or 1-800-638-2772 to obtain information on recalls of products that contain lead.
  • Lead in cultural items, food, ect. factsheet

Living near an airport

Children who live near airports may be exposed to lead in the air and soil from aviation gas. 

Drinking water

Lead can enter your drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode. The most common problem is brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder. If your home was built before 1986, it is more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder. 

You cannot taste, see, or smell lead in your drinking water. The only way to know if lead is present is to test. Contact your local drinking water system or health department for information and assistance with water testing. When testing your water, care should be taken to closely adhere to sampling requirements outlined by the laboratory.

To learn more about how to sample for lead in drinking water, visit our sampling video below and the Lead in Drinking Water brochure.

Reduction and Prevention

There are many steps to help reduce you and your family’s exposure to lead. 

  • WASH your hands often! Parents and children should wash their hands before eating and sleeping.
  • When possible, use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to prevent the redistribution of dust into the home.
  • Wet mop and damp dust weekly.
  • Clean mops and cloths after each use.
  • Remove shoes and dirty clothing before entering your home.
  • Clean closets or storage areas often.
  • Clean play areas, toys, and toy containers. If toys come from outside, clean them before bringing them inside.
  • If your old paint is peeling or disturbed, test the paint to determine if it contains lead. Lead test kits are available in hardware stores. If the paint contains lead, have an EPA-certified contractor repair it, and keep children away from these areas. 
  • The only way to know if lead is present in water is to test it. Contact the Idaho Environmental Health Program at 1-800-445-8647 or bceh@dhw.idaho.gov or a local analytical lab for more information about how to test drinking water.
  • If you know there is lead in your drinking water,
    • Let your faucet run for a few minutes before drinking to flush out any lead that has accumulated from sitting in the pipes.
    • Only use cold water for eating and drinking. Hot water is more likely to contain lead.
    • Use water filters. Boiling or treating your water will not remove lead.
  • Maintain outside paint in good condition to prevent chipping, flaking, and contamination of the soil.
  • Plant shrubs and use other barriers (such as mulch or wood chips) to prevent children from playing in the soil near the home.

For Children

  • Don’t allow children to chew or put their mouth on surfaces that may have been painted with lead-based paint.
  • If you think you have lead in your pipes, run water that has been standing in pipes overnight before drinking or cooking with it.
  • Wash your child’s hands, face, pacifiers, and toys frequently.
  • Clean your house often to get rid of dust and dirt.
  • Give your child foods high in iron and calcium (e.g., eggs, spinach, yogurt, milk, etc.) to reduce the amount of lead their bodies take in.
Symptoms

Common symptoms of lead poisoning in adults include:

  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • High blood pressure
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Difficulties with memory or concentration
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood disorders
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth in pregnant women

Common symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

  • Delay in development
  • Learning difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Weight Loss
  • Sluggishness and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures
  • Eating items, such as paint chips, that are not food

Common symptoms of lead poisoning symptoms in babies exposed to lead before birth may:

  • Born prematurely
  • Have lower birth weight
  • Have slowed growth

Lead and Copper Water Sampling

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Pruebas de Plomo y Cobre en el Agua

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Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP)

People with high levels of lead in their bodies may not seem sick. The symptoms that occur are very general and can happen for many reasons. Overexposure to lead can cause serious damage even if the person has no symptoms. A blood test for lead is the only way to find out if an individual has lead poisoning. 

In 2021, the Idaho Division of Public Health’s Environmental Health Program (EHP) has developed a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) using federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CLPPP seeks to reduce childhood lead exposure through primary prevention (e.g., removal of the lead hazards from the environment before the child is exposed) and secondary prevention (e.g., blood lead testing and follow-up care). To achieve these goals, the CLPPP will be promoting childhood lead prevention activities, including:

  • Strengthening blood lead testing and reporting
  • Strengthening surveillance
  • Linking children to recommended follow-up services, and
  • Increasing targeting of population-based interventions

CLPPP is working closely with other agencies, partners, and stakeholders serving children to identify and ensure that a comprehensive system of referral, follow-up, and evaluation is in place for children who are exposed to lead. 

The CLPPP is working closely with the Idaho Lead Screening Advisory Committee to develop Idaho’s first statewide comprehensive blood lead screening plan that includes clear blood lead testing guidance for pediatric and family care providers. Guidance for providers will include an emphasis on testing children ages one through six years of age.

In addition, the CLPPP is partnering with the Medicaid Lead Screening Advisory Committee, Idaho Public Health Districts, and other professionals to develop training for medical providers, parents, and caregivers, guidance documents, and resources to help identify and reduce lead exposure, increase blood lead testing, and reduce elevated blood lead levels. 

Contacts
IDHW Indoor Environment Program
Contact us with questions about lead.
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