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  • Department of Human Services

    Division of Public Health

    Health Topics - Lead Poisoning

    Lead poisoning can seriously affect the development and health of children. Click on each title below for more information on lead poisoning compiled from the Centers for Disease Control:

    Q. What is the problem?

    A. Approximately 434,000 U.S. children aged 1-5 years have blood lead levels greater than the CDC recommended level of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

    Lead poisoning can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death.

    Q. How are children exposed to lead?

    A. The major source of lead exposure among U.S. children is lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust found in deteriorating buildings. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. However, approximately 24 million housing units in the United States have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. More than 4 million of these dwellings are homes to one or more young children.

    Other sources of lead poisoning are related to:

    • hobbies (making stained-glass windows)
    • work (recycling or making automobile batteries)
    • drinking water (lead pipes, solder, brass fixtures, valves can all leach lead)
    • home health remedies (arzacon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion; pay-loo-ah, which is used for rash or fever).

    Q. Who is at risk?

    A. Here is a list of those at risk.

    • Children under the age of 6 years because they are growing so rapidly and because they tend to put their hands or other objects into their mouths.
    • Children from all social and economic levels can be affected by lead poisoning, although children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk.
    • Children of some racial and ethnic groups living in older housing are disproportionately affected by lead. For example, 22% of black children and 13% of Mexican-American children living in housing built before 1946 have elevated blood lead levels compared with 6% of white children living in comparable types of housing.

    Q. Can lead poisoning be prevented?

    A. Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.

    • Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be removed
    • Public and health care professionals need to be educated about lead poisoning and how to prevent it
    • Children who are at risk of lead poisoning need to be tested, and, if necessary, treated. What can I do to reduce blood lead levels?
    • Ask a doctor to test your child if you are concerned about your child being exposed to lead. · Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead if you live in a house or apartment built before 1978, especially if young children live with you or visit you.
    • Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and frequently wash a child’s hands, pacifiers, and toys to reduce exposure to lead.
    • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making baby formula. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead, and most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply.
    • Avoid using home remedies (such as arzacon, greta, pay-loo-ah) and cosmetics (such as kohl, alkohl) that contain lead.
    • Take basic steps to decrease your exposure to lead (for example, by showering and changing clothes after finishing the task) if you remodel buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies involve working with lead-based products.

    Q. Where can I get more information?

    A. For information on lead poisoning, including screenings for childhood lead poisoning, contact our expert nurses in the Community Health/Clinical Services Unit at 609-645-5933 or click on one of the links to visit the resource pages below:

    Information compiled from the Centers for Disease Control.

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