What You Should Know


What is lead?
Lead is a natural element found in our environment. Lead was once used in a variety of products such as gasoline, paint, pipes and plumbing materials, batteries, ceramics, jewelry and cosmetics.

What is lead poisoning?
When a person is exposed to lead, it can build up in the body, which is commonly referred to as lead poisoning or an elevated blood lead level. There is no safe level of lead in the human body.

How are people exposed to lead?
The primary source of elevated blood lead levels is lead-based paint and lead-containing household dust, especially around windows.

Secondary sources of lead exposure can include soil, drinking water, imported jewelry and toys, antiques, imported dishes, and traditional (“folk”) remedies. Lead exposure can also occur with jobs or hobbies where lead is involved.

Who is most at risk?
Children under the age of 6 years old are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that have lead from dust or soil into their mouths.

Adults can also be exposed to lead. Lead exposure for pregnant women is a particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.

How do I know if my child has been exposed?
There are often no signs or symptoms of lead exposure. Children may have an elevated blood lead level and not look or act sick. The only way to know if your child is being affected by lead is to get a blood lead test. The North Shore Health Department and Wisconsin's Department of Health Service's recommendations for lead testing can be found here.

If your child is under the age of 6 and has never been tested (or has no record of a previous test), has a history of lead exposure, or is at greater risk of lead exposure, be sure to talk to your health care provider or clinic about testing for your child. Increased risk may mean living in housing built before 1978 with recent or ongoing renovation or having a sibling or playmate who has an elevated blood lead level.

Your child’s health care provider or local clinic is the best place to get tested. Lead tests are paid for by most insurance plans. Testing for Medicaid-eligible children is required and paid for by Medicaid.

What are the impacts of lead exposure?
Lead exposure, even at low levels, has been shown to harm the developing brains and bodies of infants and young children. This includes a decreased intelligence or ability to learn, increased behavior problems, impaired school performance, increased juvenile delinquency, and increased childhood health problems such as speech and language delays, hearing problems, kidney damage, seizures, and in rare cases, death.

How do I prevent childhood lead exposure?
The most important way to prevent childhood lead poisoning is to keep children from coming into contact with lead by controlling or removing lead hazards from their environments. Be sure you know the sources of lead and the ways that you can take steps to control or remove these hazards from your child’s environment.