FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
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What is lead and lead poisoning?
Who should worry about lead poisoning?
Lead bans and restrictions
What are common sources of lead?
How does lead harm a child?
How do I know if my child has lead poisoning?
Can lead poisoning be treated?
What are some simple steps to protect my child from lead poisoning?
How can healthy foods protect my child from lead poisoning?
What services are available to the public?
Who is eligible for services from the local county lead program?
How do I access services from the local county lead program?
What can I do if I see lead hazards or unsafe workplaces?
- Lead is a naturally occurring metal that has been used in many products.
- Lead is harmful to the human body.
- There is no known safe level of lead in the body.
- Small amounts of lead can build up in the body and cause lifelong learning and behavior problems. Buildup of lead in the body is referred to as lead poisoning.
- Lead poisoning is the most common environmental illness in California children.
- LEAD POISONING IS PREVENTABLE!
Children under six years old are at greatest risk of harmful health effects from lead poisoning. Here's why:
- Their brains and nervous systems are still forming.
- They frequently crawl on floors or furniture that may be contaminated with lead dust and put their hands or other objects in their mouths.
- More of the lead that gets into their mouths is taken up into their bodies.
- Much of the lead is stored in their bones.
- Lead remains in their bodies for a long time.
Lead in the body can be measured by a blood test for lead.
Children at high risk of getting lead into their bodies are:
- Young children under six years of age who spend time in homes, childcare centers, or buildings built before 1978 that have chipping or peeling paint. (Old paint may still have lead in it.)
- Young children who play in bare soil. Lead may be in the dirt around your home from the past use of lead in paint and gasoline, and from lead from factories. Some factories, such as metal smelters, battery manufacturers, or battery recycling plants currently emit lead.
- Young children who eat non-food items. (This behavior is known as “pica.”) This may be more common in children with a diet low in iron and calcium.
- Children who have recently come from or who spend time in other countries where more lead is found.
- Infants born to mothers with an elevated level of lead in their blood would be at risk for lead poisoning. Lead crosses the placenta and has harmful effects on the fetus. Pregnant women exposed to lead should ask their doctor about a blood lead test.
- Adults with jobs or hobbies that work with lead may bring lead dust home on their clothes or equipment and expose household members. (For more on job or hobby lead poisoning, see the
Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.)
- Lead in house paint was severely restricted in 1978. Paint used on boats, steel structures, and road markings may still contain lead.
- Lead solder in food cans was banned in the 1980s.
- Lead in gasoline was removed during the early 1990s. However, some aircraft, off-road vehicles, and farm equipment are still allowed to use leaded gasoline.
The United States has taken many steps to remove sources of lead, but lead is still around us. Common sources include:
- Lead-based paint (pre-1978). It may have been used both inside and outside of a home and on furniture or objects in the home. Children may eat paint chips or chew on the surfaces of cribs, highchairs, windows, woodwork, walls, doors, or railings.
- Lead-contaminated soil. Lead may be in the soil where children play, especially near busy roadways or factories that currently or used to emit lead. The lead from gasoline used for many years has settled onto soil and is difficult to remove. This soil may also be tracked inside on shoes and clothing.
- Lead-contaminated dust from paint or soil. It clings to windowsills, floors, doorways and children’s toys, and is dangerous to young children who crawl and often put their hands and other objects in their mouths.
- Take-home exposure in the dust brought home on clothing, equipment, or in a car or truck driven from work. Lead dust can also come from hobbies that use lead.
- Some common jobs and hobbies that use lead include: Battery manufacturing, radiator repair, construction, working in or spending time in a firing range, soldering, recycling, painting, demolition, scrap metal recycling, working with stained glass, pottery making, target shooting, and casting fishing weights.
- Imported food in cans that are sealed with lead solder. Some countries other than the United States still allow lead solder in food cans. Cans that have lead solder have very wide seams.
- Imported home remedies and imported cosmetics may contain lead. They often are imported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico. The remedies are often bright yellow or orange in color. Examples include: Alarcon, Alkohl, Azarcon, Bali goli, Bint al zahab, Coral, Greta, Farouk, Ghasard, Kandu, Kohl, Liga, Litargirio, Lozeena, Pay-loo-ah, Sindoor, and Surma. There are many others.
- Imported or handmade pottery and tableware with leaded glaze. The lead from the glaze gets into food and beverages when these ceramics are used for cooking or storing food.
- Imported candies, foods, and spices may contain lead. Candies made with chili or tamarind, and some ethnic foods and spices such as chapulines (dried grasshoppers), khmeli suneli, turmeric, or kurut (dehydrated yogurt) have all be found to have lead.
- Metal jewelry. Lead has been found in inexpensive children’s jewelry sold in vending machines across the country. It also has been found in inexpensive metal amulets worn for good luck or protection. Some costume jewelry designed for adults has also been found to contain lead. It is important to make sure that children don’t handle, mouth, or swallow any jewelry.
Summary of risks and sources of lead poisoning:
Young children are at greatest risk for lead poisoning if they spend time inside and outside buildings built before 1978 and in soil and dust that may contain lead. Also, children between 12 and 24 months of age often have their hands or toys in their mouths. To learn more about preventing lead-tainted soil and dust from harming your child, visit our health education materials page. There are ways to test an item for lead content. Please
contact your local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program for more information. If your county does not have a local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program,
contact your local health department or the
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch office.
- Lead exposure can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when they are still forming.
- Lead can lead to a low blood count (anemia).
- Even small amounts of lead in the body can make it hard for children to learn, pay attention, and succeed in school.
- Higher amounts of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and other major organs. Very high exposure can lead to seizures or death.
- Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick. Symptoms, if present, may be confused with common childhood complaints, such as stomachache, crankiness, headaches, or loss of appetite.
- The only way to know if your child has lead poisoning is for the child to get a blood test for lead. Talk to your child’s health care provider to see if your child is at risk for lead poisoning. Your child may need a blood test for lead.
- Children age 12 months and 24 months who are enrolled in publicly funded health care such as Medi-Cal, Child Health and Disability Prevention Program (CHDP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are at high risk and should be tested. Cost for the test is covered by government health programs and health insurance plans.
- Children enrolled in publicly funded health care who are between 24 months and 6 years old and have not been tested at the appropriate times should be tested. Young children under six years of age who spend time in homes, childcare centers, or buildings built before 1978 that have chipping or peeling paint should be tested.
- Any infant or child who is thought to be at risk or comes in contact with items that may contain lead should be tested. (See “What are the common sources of lead?”.)
- Yes, however, the best approach is to stop your children from coming into contact with lead.
- The most common way to treat lead poisoning in children is to find the lead source and remove it from their environment.
- When children have very high levels of lead in their blood, they require a medicine called a chelating agent. A chelating agent is a type of medicine that helps to remove the lead from the child’s body.
- Your local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is available to help you and your health care provider to find and remove the source of lead poisoning. If your county does not have a local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, contact your local health department or the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch office.
- Any other problems associated with lead poisoning, such as anemia, should be treated.
- A healthy diet is recommended. (See “How Can Healthy Food Protect My Child From Lead Poisoning?”.)
Summary of health effects, testing, and treatment
Lead poisoning can harm a child’s brain and cause learning and behavior problems that may last a lifetime. Most children will not look or act sick, so a blood test for lead is the only way to find out if they have lead poisoning. Review the risk factors and any possible lead sources your child may be exposed to with your health care provider. If your child is lead poisoned, your local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, local health department, or the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch will help you and your health care provider with treatment and/or finding and removing the source(s) of lead.
- Wash your child’s hands and face frequently, especially before eating.
- Wash toys, countertops and windowsills and wet mop floors weekly with an all-purpose detergent. Don’t let your child play in areas where bare soil is exposed.
- Take off your shoes or wipe them on a mat before entering the house. This will help prevent lead dust and soil from getting into your house.Vacuum carpets frequently to reduce household dust, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Clean up paint chips and peeling paint safely. Your local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program can give you information on safe cleaning. Keep furniture away from damaged paint. Pay special attention to keeping cribs, beds, highchairs, and playpens away from damaged paint.Avoid giving children imported candy, chapulines, or snacks containing chili or tamarind. Feed your child regular meals with a diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C. See the section below for information about a healthy diet.
- Lead in Tap Water fact sheet (PDF).Allow cold water to run for a few minutes in the morning before using it for drinking, cooking, or mixing formula in case there may be lead in your household pipes. Use only cold water from the tap for drinking or in food preparation. If water needs to be heated, draw water from the cold tap and heat it on the stove or in the microwave. For more information about lead in tap water, including how to test your water for lead, read our Avoid using handmade, older, imported dishes or crystal for food or drink preparation, storage, or serving, unless you are sure they do not contain lead. Avoid using traditional remedies or cosmetics that contain lead. If you are not sure, check with your local lead program. Avoid imported foods that come in cans with wide seams. Change out of work clothes before entering the house or being in contact with family members. If you work with lead at your job or hobby, take a shower at your workplace, if possible. Otherwise, shower and remove clothing immediately upon returning home. Handle clothing carefully and wash separately.
- When moving into a home, ask the owner about any problems with lead and know the age of the building.
- Before remodeling, ask a trained professional to test the paint in your home. View lists of certified professionals in your area. If lead is in the paint, learn how to handle it safely. Brochures are available on how to remodel your home safely.
A good diet can help prevent lead from getting into your child’s body. These suggestions provide your child with a healthy diet and also prevent lead from being absorbed into your child’s body. Your child should:
- Eat regular meals and healthy snacks (at least every 3-4 hours).
- Eat foods that have calcium (milk, spinach and other leafy greens, salmon, unsweetened yogurt, tofu, and cheese).
- Eat foods that have iron (unprocessed red meat, chicken or turkey without skin, fish, beans, broccoli, and split peas).
- Eat foods that have vitamin C to help the body absorb iron (bell peppers, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, broccoli, kiwi, and strawberries).
- Reduce fatty foods such as fried foods, fast foods, and “junk” foods (donuts, potato chips, and cupcakes). However, some fat in the diet is very important for brain development, especially under age two.
- Nuts, nut butters, seeds, and avocados are healthier sources of fat.
Your local lead poisoning prevention program (located in counties and some cities) offers a variety of free services, including educational materials on lead sources, nutrition, and blood lead testing recommendations, to help you become more informed about lead poisoning and lead poisoning prevention.
- Local lead programs provide counseling on how to prevent lead poisoning or to help your child and family if lead exposure has been identified.
- Local lead program public health nurses will come to your home and provide care management services, including a health assessment, monitoring for blood lead levels, counseling, care, and next steps. These services are primarily for individuals under age 21.
- Occupational health services are also available for certain adults exposed to lead through work. For more information, visit the Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
- The local lead program environmental investigators will test your home and places your child spends time (like a childcare facility or other caregiver home) to identify sources of lead and to provide information to reduce exposure or eliminate lead sources.
Educational and other services are available to all members of the public. Local programs work with health care providers to see that children with elevated blood lead levels are followed and families educated on lead risks and exposure.
Contact your local county lead program or health department to find out more and to access services available to you. View an
A-Z Index of local programs. You can also contact the California Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch at 850 Marina Bay Parkway, Building P, Third Floor, Richmond, CA 94804 or (510) 620-5600.
If you see unsafe lead practices taking place, you should contact your
local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and visit our
Assuring Safe Practices page for more information and to file a complaint.