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Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects particularly in young children. Lead is found in the air, soil, and some food, and in paint in older buildings and homes. High-dose exposure to lead can result in serious health problems.

Each of us is exposed to some lead every day. Lead enters the body when you breathe or swallow lead particles or when dust has settled. Lead can leak into drinking water from certain types of plumbing materials and can be found on walls, woodwork and the outside of your home in the form of lead-based paint. If you are exposed to a small amount of lead, your body will discharge it.

Lead poisoning is a disease that occurs when too much lead builds up in the body. Exposure to lead is estimated by measuring levels in the blood (micrograms per deciliter). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set a level of concern at 10 micrograms per deciliter.

Who Is at Risk?

Children six years and under living in homes built before 1960 are at the greatest risk. A yearly blood lead test is advised for children who receive high-dose exposure (live or play in older housing, live or play in a home where lead-based paint is being removed or live near heavy traffic or a business where lead is used). Adults who work with lead on the job are also at high risk. This includes painters, remodelers or workers in smelters or battery plants.

How Does Lead Harm the Body?

Exposure to excessive levels of lead can cause brain damage, affect a child's growth, damage kidneys, impair hearing, cause vomiting, headaches and loss of appetite and can cause learning and behavioral problems. In adults, lead may increase blood pressure, cause digestive problems, kidney damage, nerve disorders, sleep problems, muscle and joint pain and mood changes.

The common symptoms of lead poisoning are:
  Loss of appetite
  Stomach cramps
  Lack of energy
  Loss of recently acquired skills
However, these symptoms can occur for many reasons, and people with high levels of lead often may not seem sick. The only way to find out if there's too much lead in the body is a simple blood test.

Lead-Based Paint

Any house or apartment built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. Most homes built before 1960 contain lead-based paint. Lead-based paint produced before 1960 contains higher concentrations of lead than paint manufactured in later years. Lead-based paint can be found on walls, ceilings, woodwork, windows and sometimes floors. When lead-based paint on these surfaces is broken, sanded or scraped, it breaks into tiny particles that your child may swallow or inhale. Interventions to reduce exposure to lead-based paint may help reduce blood levels. These include:
  Be aware that lead-based paint may have been used on older cribs, windows, woodwork, walls, doors, railings and ceilings.
  Keep children away from areas where paint is chipped or peeling. Prevent children from chewing on window sills or other painted surfaces.
  Clean windows often. Loose paint can build up in the window area.
  Do not clean up paint chips or leaded dust with the vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming will circulate the dust particles.
  If you renovate your home, children can be exposed to lead poison while the lead-based paint is being removed.
  Painting over chipping or peeling paint does not make it safe.
Contact your local health department to find out how you can have the paint in your house tested for lead.

Leaded Dust

Household dust can contain lead from paint chips or cracks in the soil. It can also be found in homes where lead-based paint has just been removed. Leaded dust is very easy to swallow or breathe in. To reduce leaded dust:
  Maintain your home as dust-free as possible. Clean floors and wipe furniture and window sills with a tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) detergent to reduce dust particles. Tri-sodium phosphate is available at most hardware stores.
  Wash your child's bottles, teething rings, toys and bedding regularly.
  Wash your child's hands before meals, naptime and bedtime.
  Keep the areas where children play clean and dust-free.
  Close your windows if work is going on outside your home that may be scattering leaded dust.


Lead may be in the soil next to old buildings with chipped paint or homes that have been remodeled or near heavy traffic areas and companies that use lead. To reduce exposure to lead, plant grass or other ground cover. Since the highest concentrations of lead in a yard tend to be near surfaces that once were painted, if exterior lead paint was likely to have been used, plant bushes around the outside of your house so children cannot play in those areas.


A well-balanced diet is important. Meals high in fats and oils are not good because they help the body absorb lead. A healthy diet should include food high in calcium (milk, yogurt, low-fat cheese and tofu), food high in vitamin C (oranges, grapefruit, dark green/leafy vegetables and broccoli) and food high in iron (lean red meat, dried beans and peas, raisins, iron fortified cereal and infant formula). To reduce exposure to lead in food:
  Wash fruit and vegetables.
  Do not store juices or food in open cans. Store food in plastic or glass containers.
  Plant gardens away from the house or garage. Plants will not absorb lead unless there is an abundant source of lead in the soil.


Lead can leak into drinking water from certain types of plumbing materials (lead pipes, copper pipes with lead solder and brass faucets). Plumbing installed prior to 1930 may contain lead pipes. Minnesota banned the use of water pipes with lead-based solder in June of 1985. In order to check the lead in your water, the water must be tested by a certified laboratory.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Minnesota Department of Health, Lead Program
National Safety Council

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