Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention
Lead Poisoning 101
What is the primary cause of lead poisoning?
Lead-based paint in older homes is the primary cause of childhood lead poisoning in the United States.
What are the sources of lead?
The usual source of lead is lead dust inside the home, and lead in the soil outside the home. Other sources of lead include:
- Deteriorated lead paint
- Lead in some imported foods
- In water from old pipes in the home
- Leaded crystal and pewter
- Painted toys and furniture
- Fishing weights
- Some imported vinyl mini blinds
- Some candle wicks
- Homemade medicines and cosmetics
- Hobbies that use lead, such as pottery glazes, stained glass or refinishing furniture
- Lead dust brought home on work clothing
- Certain homemade and imported ceramics/pottery
- Some lead-painted jewelry and charms
How does lead enter the body?
Lead enters the body when a child or adult inhales or ingests lead when old, cracked or peeling lead paint breaks down into dirt or dust. It is tracked into your house from pets, toys, shoes, work clothes or uniforms. Dust from torn down buildings can blow in through windows or doors. A child sucking on dirty fingers or anyone touching any of these surfaces can be poisoned.
How many children are affected by lead in the U.S.?
In the United States, 1 out of every 11 children has dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning in children?
Because some symptoms may be a result from other conditions – or may not appear at all, it is important that children be screened to determine if lead is in their body.
Symptoms in children may include:
- Stomach aches
- Sleep problems
- Poor appetite
- Hearing problems
Why are children at higher risk for lead poisoning?
Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them.
- Children's growing bodies absorb more lead.
- Children's brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
How do I know if my child is lead-poisoned?
It is not always easy to tell if a child has been poisoned. The only way to know for sure is with a blood test. The good news is that average blood lead levels for both children and adults have dropped more than 80% since the late 1970s. The bad news is that blood lead levels remain higher among children in low-income families, especially those living in older housing where leaded paints may have been used.
What can I do now to protect my family from lead?
Lead poisoning is 100% preventable! If you think your house has lead hazards, take steps now to reduce your family's risk:
- If you rent, tell your landlord about peeling or chipping paint.
- Clean up paint chips right away by vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum with a special filter.
- Wet wipe hard surfaces like floors, windows, window frames and windowsills at least once a week. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead.
- Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty or dusty areas.
- Wash children's hands, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals often, especially before they eat and before nap and bed time.
- Keep play areas clean.
- Never cook with hot water, always start with cold.
- Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables to remove chemicals or “pesticides” which may contain lead.
- Keep children from chewing windowsills or other painted surfaces.
- Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
- Keep work clothes at work or change before you touch your child.
- Foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C can help keep your child healthy and lead free. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead.
Can adults become lead poisoned?
Yes, usually from exposure at work, during home repairs and renovations, or from certain hobbies. If you work with paint, machines, building construction, or dirt and soil, wash hands often and leave clothes at work.
What are the symptoms and health effects of lead poisoning for adults?
In addition to the symptoms listed for children, adults may exhibit the following symptoms:
- A metallic taste in their mouth
- Muscle and joint pains
- Blue line on gums
- Memory problems
- Weak wrist or ankles
- Weight loss
- Reproductive difficulties
Prolonged high and low exposure to lead may lead to brain disorders, personality changes, anemia, high blood pressure, brain, nerve, kidney or reproductive problems, decreased red blood cells, and slower reflexes in adults.
Testing & Treatment
Who should be tested for lead poisoning?
Children ages 9 months to 6 years old are most at risk.
- Test your child for lead poisoning at 9 months old and each year until they are age 6.
- Adults with jobs that may expose them to lead, such as painters, construction workers, mechanics, and work that requires working with soil or soldering. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.
Where can my child be tested?
Have your child tested by their doctor or healthcare provider, or at any health center. City health centers provide free lead testing if you do not have health insurance.
How often should my child be tested?
Test your child for lead poisoning at 9 months old, and each year until they are age 6. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.
What is the treatment for lead poisoning?
Treatment begins with removing the source of lead from the environment, washing hands often, and eating foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C to help reduce lead levels in the body. If your child has an elevated blood lead level (EBLL) higher than 44 and removing the source of lead, handwashing, and a healthy diet do not reduce lead levels, chelation therapy may be used. This is a medical process using drugs that lower the amount of lead stored in the body, and is eliminated through urine. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.
Lead Hazards in the Home
When is the lead likely to be a hazard?
Lead-based paint in good condition is usually not a hazard. Lead becomes a hazard when paint chips break down into lead dust or in dirt—which you cannot always see. Peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs attention right away.
Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, including:
- Windows and windowsills
- Doors and doorframes
- Stairs, railings, and banisters
- Porches and fences
Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry scraped, dry sanded, or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can enter the air when people vacuum, sweep, or track it inside from their shoes or when children play in bare soil.
How can I check my home for lead hazards?
You can get your home checked for lead hazards by the following:
- A paint inspection tells you the lead content of every painted surface in your home.
- A risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure (such as peeling paint and lead dust). It also tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.
Have qualified professionals do the work. Inspectors and Risk Assessors must be CERTIFIED in Pennsylvania to do this work. Call the PA Bureau of Labor and Industry, 717-772-3396, for a current list of certified professionals.
Trained professionals use a range of methods when checking for lead in your home, including:
- Visual inspection of paint condition and location
- Lab tests of paint samples
- Surface dust tests or dust wipe samples
- Fluorescent x-rays (taken with a portable x-ray fluorescence machine)
Home test kits for lead are available, but the federal government is still testing their reliability. These tests should not be the only method used before doing renovations or to assure safety.
How do you know if there is lead in toys or other items?
Lead Hazard Removal
How can lead hazards be removed safely?
Always use a professional who is trained to remove lead hazards safely. Removing lead paint improperly can spread even more lead dust around the house.
You can temporarily reduce lead hazards by:
- Repairing damaged painted surfaces
- Planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels.
These actions (called "interim controls") are not permanent solutions and will not eliminate all risks of exposure.
To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a lead "abatement" contractor. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials. Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not enough.
- Remodeling and renovation projects can disturb lead paint and release lead dust. Always hire a certified professional, or take the proper steps to protect your family.
- Women of childbearing age and children should not be in the home until the project is completed.
- If you cannot move your family you must completely seal off the work area.
- Always use the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly.
- When possible, hire a certified lead abatement contractor who will follow strict safety rules Call the PA Bureau of Labor and Industry at 717-772-3396 for a current list of certified professionals.
- Do not use a dry scraper, belt-sander, propane torch, or heat gun to remove lead-based paint. They can create large amounts of lead dust and fumes. Lead dust can remain in your home long after the work is completed.
- Follow other safety measures to reduce lead hazards by calling 1-800-424-LEAD. Ask for the brochure "Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home" which explains what to do before, during, and after renovations.
- If you have already completed renovations or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or dust, thoroughly clean the home to remove lead dust, and have your young children tested.
Is there help to remove the lead hazards in the home?
Yes! If you have a child age 6 and under living in the home with you, we may have grants for free lead paint inspections, repair work and "Supercleans" to help remove lead from your home. Classes are also held each month to teach homeowners how to safely remove lead hazards. Call 215-685-2332 for more information.
Can you recommend someone to remove lead hazards?
Yes, we have a list of certified lead abatement contractors. Call 215-685-2334 for more information.
- Certified lead abatement contractors in the Philadelphia area
How do I qualify for a lead hazard control grant?
If you have a child age 6 or under living with you, have received 2 lead blood test results with a 10 or higher, and can provide proof of income and home ownership, we can help you complete a grant intake form. Call 215-685-2332 for more information.
Can you provide a Lead Disclosure form?
Yes. Owners must disclose known information on Lead-based Paint Hazards and provide a Lead Disclosure form before selling or renting a property. If the building was built before 1978, it may have paint that contains lead. Call 215-685-2334 for more information.
- Certified lead abatement contractors in the Philadelphia area
- Lead Disclosure Form
Can someone come out to a community event or talk to a group?
Yes, we provide free lead poisoning prevention education to any and all groups in Philadelphia. Call 215-685-2788 to schedule an event or presentation.