Lead Poisoning Facts
Lead poisoning occurs when too much lead accumulates in the body.
Lead is a metallic element that can be absorbed by the body, primarily through the lungs and stomach. Generally, lead poisoning occurs slowly, resulting from the gradual accumulation of lead in bone and tissue after repeated exposure.
It is important to note that young children absorb lead far more easily and rapidly than adults. The developing nervous systems of young children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of lead. Unborn babies are also susceptible to the adverse effects of lead, as it crosses the placenta during pregnancy.
However, lead poisoning can affect nearly every system in the body. It can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death.
Lead is listed as a known carcinogen (a cancer causing substance) in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxic Release Inventory.
Sources of Lead
In the past lead was widely used in such things as household paint, gasoline, pipes and pesticides. The use of lead has been restricted in these and many other products, but a person may still become exposed to lead from a variety of sources. The following is a list of common lead sources:
- Pottery, ceramics and dishware
- Imported toys
- Work and hobby activities, such as indoor firing range construction, remodeling, radiator repair, pottery making,
- Paint chips from interior and exterior paint in homes built before 1978
- Painted antique items, including furniture
- Soil, especially in dense urban areas and playgrounds
- Household dust, and debris from older building renovation
- Contaminated drinking water due to leaching in homes with lead pipes, lead solder, brass fixtures, and/or brass valves
- Imported cosmetics
- Imported candy
- Traditional home remedies, such as Greta and Azarcon, an orange powder used to treat upset stomach (empacho) in the Hispanic culture, Ghasard used as a tonic in Indian folk remedy, and Ba-baw-san, a Chinese herbal remedy used to treat colic pain or to pacify young children
Visit the Resources webpage for information on products recalled due to lead contamination.
Routes of Entry
Lead is usually introduced into the body through ingestion or inhalation. A person typically eats foods or puts other items contaminated with lead into his mouth or breathes in dust or fumes containing lead.
Children under the age of 6 years are at greater risk of elevated blood lead levels because of normal hand to mouth activity in areas or with items potentially contaminated with lead.
Additionally, because certain parts of their nervous system are in the early stages of development, they are more susceptible to the toxic effects of lead.
Symptoms in children and adults are generally not the same. Table 1 is a comparison of lead poisoning symptoms as seen in children and adults. Many adults and children may not have any noticeable symptoms of lead poisoning.
Table 1. Symptoms of Lead Poisoning
|Abdominal pain||Abdominal pain|
|Learning problems||Heart failure|
|Lowered IQ||High blood pressure|
|Vomiting||Wrist or foot weakness|
No. Lead is not passed person-to-person.
Some doctors stress the importance of a sensible diet to aid in the reduction of lead in the body.
Most doctors familiar with lead poisoning prescribe chelation therapy if blood lead levels become excessively high, to help extract lead from the soft tissue and flush it from the body.
Chelation therapy uses agents to bind to lead stored in the bones and organs. The agent and bound lead are disposed of through normal elimination. Consult your doctor for further information and methods of treatment.
Table 2 shows some health effects resulting from lead poisoning.
Table 2. Health Effects of Lead Poisoning
|Behavioral problems||Hypertension (high blood pressure)|
|Damage to kidneys, nervous system and brain||Reproductive complications (e.g., infertility in males; miscarriages in
|Loss of visual and motor skills|
|Slowed or stunted growth|
- Do not eat imported goods that are suspected of containing lead.
- If lead paint has been found in your house, eliminate contaminated dust by using a solution of TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and water.
- Damp mop floors and clean other surfaces with a cloth or sponge that will not be re-used on dishes, eating, drinking or cooking utensils.
- Block painted window sills and moldings with heavy furniture to keep children away.
- Install vinyl siding over exterior lead painted surfaces.
- Plant grass to control dust.
- Reduce children’s contact with soil if your house was built before 1978 or is near a major highway.
- Plant bushes near exterior walls to keep children away.
- Test your water for lead content and assure that it is within recommended limits.
- Run tap water for 60 seconds before using it whenever the water may have been standing awhile.
- Use cold tap water for drinking, cooking and making infant formula because it carries less lead. (Boiling the water concentrates the lead.)
- Check pottery, china and leaded glassware for lead content.
A blood test is required to test for lead in children. All children should be tested for lead at 12 months and again at 24 months. In addition, any children between the ages of 3 and 6 who have never been tested should be screened for lead as well. Ask your child’s health care provider about getting a simple blood test.
Childhood blood lead level screenings can be done by your child’s health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, blood lead testing is available at the Southern Nevada Health District’s main facility at 280 S. Decatur Blvd. Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. for children between the ages of 1 and 5. Most insurance companies cover the cost of lead screenings for children.
The Southern Nevada Health District accepts most insurance as well as Medicaid and Nevada Check-Up. If you are uninsured, testing is $20. Appointments are not needed. For additional information, call (702) 759-1000.
Seek the advice of a physician.
Visit your health care provider.
- CDC – Lead Poisoning site
- Las Vegas Medicaid District Office
1210 S. Valley View Blvd., Ste. 104 Las Vegas, NV 8910
- Nevada Check Up — Division of Welfare and Supportive Services
The Nevada Check Up program provides low-cost, comprehensive health care coverage to low-income, uninsured children (birth through 18) who are not covered by private insurance or Medicaid.
- WIC Program of the Nevada State Division of Public and Behavioral Health
Work with your WIC nutritionist for information about a healthy diet for your child.
- Southern Nevada Early Childhood Advisory Council (SNECAC)
SNECAC has a list of resources and links on their website including early childhood care and education, K-12 education, service directories, and community and family development services.
- National Lead Information Center
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Children’s Environmental Health Network
Phone: (702) 759-1300
Updated on: October 12, 2018