Jump to main content.


Frequently Asked Questions About Lead

Boy Raising His Hand

 

Q:  What is lead?
A:  Lead is a metal that has been mined for thousands of years.  Lead is highly toxic.  Lead is found everywhere in the human environment.  It can be harmful to humans when eaten or inhaled, particularly to children under age 6.  In the past, lead was used to make common items such as paint, gasoline, solder, water pipes, crystal, ceramics, and food cans. 

Q:  What is lead poisoning?
A:  Your child may have lead poisoning without you even knowing it because your child may not look sick.  Some children with lead poisoning may have learning disabilities and other health problems.  Lead poisoning can be detected with a simple blood test given by your child's doctor.  Lead poisoning is also preventable.

Q:  How do children get lead poisoning?
A:  Children can swallow lead dust or soil that contains lead from paint by putting their hands or toys in their mouth.  Lead makes things taste sweet, so children and pets are attracted to the taste of lead paint chips and especially to lead dust.  It only takes lead dust equal to two grains of sugar a day on a child's fingertip transferred to the mouth, for perhaps a month, to cause that child's nerve velocity to decrease, making the child slower both physically and mentally.  The only way to know for sure if your child has lead poisoning is with a simple blood test.  Your doctor can perform the test and explain the results.

Q:  When should my child be tested for lead poisoning?
A:  Screening should start at six months if the child is at risk for lead exposure (for example, if the child lives in a home built before 1978, with peeling or chipping paint).  Decisions about further lead testing should be based on previous blood-lead test results, and the child's risk of lead exposure.  In some States, more frequent lead screening is required by law.

Q:  What should I do to prevent my child from getting lead poisoning?
A:  Serve 3 meals a day that are high in iron and calcium to help prevent lead from being absorbed into your child's body.  Wash children's hands before eating, going to bed and after playing outside.  Keep children away from peeling paint.  Keep your home clean, wet mop floors, wipe furniture, window sills and other dusty surfaces often. Wash children's toys, bottles and pacifiers often.

Q. What are the chances my older home has lead-based paint?  How can I tell if it does?  

A. The older the home, the better chance it contains some lead-based paint (LBP). A rule of thumb: built before 1950 -- probably LBP both inside and out. Between 1950 and 1960 -- probably LBP outside, maybe not inside. Between 1961 and 1970 --some chance for outside LBP, probably not inside. Between 1971 and 1978 -- slight chance of LBP. NOTE:  though LBP was essentially banned in 1978, some existing LBP might have been used for two or more years afterwards (i.e., to 1980 or 1981).  The only way to tell positively if you have LBP is to have it properly tested by a professional.  

Q. Who is most at risk of lead poisoning and why? I'm sure my kids won't eat lead paint. If they got it on their hands, I surely would see it.  

A. Children under six years old are most at risk because their brains and nervous systems are still developing. Of these, children between ages one and three are especially vulnerable, since they are walking, playing, and crawling on the floors where lead dust can accumulate. They get the dust into their bodies through hand-to-mouth activity. They also put toys and pacifiers in their mouths which have fallen on the floor.  Lead makes things taste sweet. The Romans used lead to sweeten their wines. So children and pets are attracted to the taste of lead paint chips and especially to lead dust.  Put two single grains of sugar on the bottom of a fingertip. Do you see it? It only takes lead dust equal to two grains of sugar a day on a child's fingertips then transferred to the mouth, for perhaps a month, to cause that child's nerve velocity to decrease, making the child slower, both physically and mentally -- perhaps for life. While the change may not be easily noticeable, it could cost a budding scholar or athlete their competitive edge.  

Q. But didn't we all grow up with lead? They even used it in gasoline. What's the big deal now?  

A. That's true. The lead alert level used to be 40 micrograms per deciliter of whole blood until the mid seventies, then it was reduced to 30 in the mid eighties, 25 between 1985 and 1992, and currently, 10. It wasn't until we took it out of gasoline in the mid seventies to mid eighties that we were able to discern how devastating it can be, especially to children under six years of age. So most of us could probably have been smarter and faster than we are. NOTE: Pregnant women can also transfer lead in their blood streams to a developing fetus at concentrations only half the present alert level (also called level of concern).  Lead was used in gasoline because it increased the efficiency of the gasoline while also lubricating the valves. But now we know: while lead has many uses, they can come with a high, toxic price tag.  Now that we know how toxic lead is, we want to take every precaution which is practicable to control it and prevent serious health effects. The cost of ignoring it are too great in decreased capabilities, earnings and enjoyment of life. It makes both good health and economic sense to take proper precautions now.  

Q. Where can I get more information?  

A. Contact either your state lead program, EPA's Regional Office or the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323). You can obtain pamphlets and articles from these sources, including a booklet on simple repairs and remodeling which you can do safely. You can get lists of certified professionals from your state lead program.

If you have extensive renovations to do and are handy, you can find a qualified instruction provider by calling your state lead program. After taking a course (which lasts a matter of days, depending on what depth of training you desire), you not only will be able to do your own renovations safely but will qualify to do work part-time to help others and earn extra money.  

Region 3 The Mid-Atlantic States


Local Navigation


Jump to main content.