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Facts About Lead Poisoning

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning occurs when a person is exposed to lead-based products. Lead is a highly toxic metal that can be easily absorbed through ingestion, respiration, and less commonly absorption through the skin. Once lead is in the body it is taken in by the blood stream and dispersed through various parts of the body. Exposure to lead can cause a number of problems to the human body including brain, liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, lowered IQ, developmental delays, behavior problems, and in extreme cases–death. These problems are permanent but damage can be reduced if the exposed person receives treatment and is removed from the source of exposure. Children under the age of 6 and pregnant women are at the greatest risk of damage from lead exposure.

Where does lead come from?

Household paint. Prior to 1978, household paint contained lead. Nearly 77% of homes in NJ were built prior to 1980, which increases the chances that lead-based paint may have been used in painting interior or exterior surfaces. Painted surfaces flake off into paint chips or dust which creates a likely source of exposure to children who may put chew on paint chips or touch a dusty surface with their hands and then touch their mouth.

Prevention tip: Use a lead testing kit to test painted surfaces for the presence of lead. Wet mopping dusty surfaces with mild soap and a disposable cloth can also reduce exposure to lead dust. If you are remodeling your home, be sure to work with a certified contractor that uses safe lead removal practices.

Soil. Pollution from airborne emissions and construction leaves dirt and soil saturated with remnants of lead. Children may play outside or in the dirt and touch their toys or their mouths.

Prevention tip: Leave your shoes at the door when coming in from outside, such as using a floor mat. Be sure your children immediately wash their hands when coming in from playing outside. Also, be sure to wash toys frequently with soap and water.

Water. Piping in older homes may be lined with lead soldering, including pipes that are used for drinking water. Lead can easily leach into the water when the water runs hot.

Prevention tip: Never run hot water when filling up cooking pots or washing dishes. Drink bottled or purified water instead of tap water.

Toys. Older toys and current toys may be coated with unsafe levels of lead-based paint.

Prevention tip: Be aware of giving your children hand-me-down toys or purchases from thrift stores. Also, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall alerts for toys that may violate lead paint standards. You can also view our current list of recalls here.

Ceramics. Pottery and crystal ceramics may contain lead.

Prevention tip: If you display these items in your home be sure they are out of reach of children and never use these items to serve or store food or drinks.

Imported products. Many imported candies and canned products may contain unregulated amounts of lead.

Prevention tip: Check with the FDA about imported foods before purchasing.

Other sources. Some cosmetic products, folk remedies, fishing sinkers, and certain hobbies (stained glass making, welding, etc.) may also be a source of exposure.

Prevention tip: If you partake in a hobby or career that puts you at risk of lead exposure be sure to wash clothing thoroughly and leave shoes outside the home.

How do I find out if my children are being exposed to lead?

One of the most effective ways to find out if your family has been exposed to lead is get a blood test. It is recommended that children under 6 receive a blood test for lead every year. It is recommended that you ask your doctor to conduct a lead test, especially if you suspect lead in your home. A blood-lead level of 5 micrograms/dL or higher is considered dangerous and steps may need to be taken to reduce lead in your home. Another way to determine lead exposure is to have the surfaces of your home tested for lead. Contact your local health department for more information on testing options.

How can I reduce lead poisoning?

Following some of the prevention tips above can reduce sources of exposure such as wet mopping dusty surfaces, washing hands regularly, and washing toys. Be sure your children also eat a balanced diet with foods high in iron and calcium (shown to reduce absorption of lead in the body).

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