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Frequently Asked Questions

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Lead and Healthy Homes
Frequently Asked Questions

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning is acute or chronic poisoning caused by the absorption of lead in the body. Lead poisoning is a serious issue for many young children and their families.

Lead has been shown to have many harmful effects in growing children, especially between the ages of nine months and six years. Even low levels of lead can cause life-long brain damage.

Higher levels of lead can cause:

  • pregnancy problems
  • high blood pressure
  • learning disabilities
  • serious brain and nerve damage
  • death

How does lead poisoning happen?

Lead poisoning comes from lead-based paint used in homes built before 1978. When this paint peels and chips, it becomes lead dirt or dust and can get into children’s bodies when they put hands and toys into their mouths. Lead can also be brought into the house by pets, and on toys, shoes, work clothes or uniforms.

Tenants who rent their home should report peeling and chipping paint to their landlord for prompt repair in a lead safe manner. If a landlord does not make repairs, call 311 to request a home inspection by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections.

How can I tell if my child is lead-poisoned?

It is not easy to tell if a child has been lead poisoned. The symptoms of lead poisoning are similar to those of healthy children, including:

  • loss of appetite
  • loss of energy
  • hyperactivity
  • irritability
  • stomach aches
  • they may have no signs or symptoms at all

The only way to know for sure if a child has been poisoned is to get the child tested for lead.

How can I get a lead test for my child?

Talk to your child’s doctor about getting a blood lead test. Pediatricians recommend that children get a blood lead test at around the age of one, and again around the age of two. Children who live in older housing or have other risk factors should be screened once a year until the age of six.

Children should be tested at their doctor’s office or a laboratory, and Medicaid, CHIP and private insurance covers blood lead testing for children.

Children can also be tested anytime for free at any of the city’s health centers.

What happens if my child is lead poisoned or otherwise harmed by an unhealthy home?

If your child’s blood lead level is at or above five, the level will be reported to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Lead and Healthy Homes Program. Program staff will contact you to offer services and resources.

For families of children with asthma, or those dealing with other health and safety problems in the home, the Lead and Healthy Homes Program may be able to help with information, home visits and other resources. Call 215-685-2788 to get more information.

What can I do to help keep lead out of my house?

You can do a lot to reduce your child’s risk of being lead poisoned:

  • Keep children away from peeling paint and home repairs that disturb paint.
  • Wash your children’s hands, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals before they eat or nap.
  • "Wet wipe" hard surfaces like floors and windowsills at least once a week.
  • Foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C can help keep your child healthy and lead free.
  • Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables to remove chemicals or pesticides that may contain lead.
  • Never cook with hot water. Always start with cold water to flush any lead deposits out of the pipes.
  • If you work with paint, machines, building construction, dirt or soil, leave work clothes at work, or change before you touch your child.
  • Do not use health remedies and cosmetics (such as kohl, kajal, surma) from other countries. Some of these products have been found to contain high levels of lead.
  • Do not use imported glazed clay pots and dishes to cook, serve, or store food, and do not use pottery that is chipped or cracked.
  • Use caution when using candies, spices, foods, and children’s toys and jewelry made in other countries. These items may contain lead.

What can I do to reduce my child’s asthma problem?

Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs. It causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing.

Asthma keeps children from taking part in physical activities, causes them to miss school days due to frequent hospital and doctors’ visits, and interferes with their sleep.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Dust and dust mites
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Cockroach and mice allergens
  • Furry pets
  • Strong cleaning chemicals

Other triggers can include physical exercise, food additives, fragrances and changes in temperature.

It is important to find out what triggers your child’s asthma in order to avoid these triggers. It is also important to learn what medicines work best for controlling your child’s asthma.

You should work with your child’s doctors to create an asthma action plan for both home and school.


What can I do to keep my home healthy and safe?

You can do a lot to keep your home healthy and safe.

  • Remove standing water and fix plumbing leaks.
  • Seal all holes and gaps where pests can enter.
  • Keep food in sealed containers.
  • Remove garbage daily.
  • Reduce the clutter in your home on a regular basis.
  • Keep your home ventilated (open windows) to allow fresh air to enter.
  • Do not allow smoking inside your home.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors outside of sleeping areas and test them every six months.
  • Install window guards in homes with children.
  • Install safety plugs for all electrical outlets.
  • Use childproof locks to store drain cleaners, detergents and other chemicals out of children’s reach.
  • Store all medicines away from children’s reach.
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia, which causes harmful fumes.
  • Know the phone number for Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222.