Lead FAQ

What is lead?

Lead is a toxic metal that can be absorbed by the body, usually through the stomach and lungs.

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning happens when too much lead gets stored in the body. Lead usually enters the body through ingestion (eating) or inhalation (breathing). You can’t see or smell lead; however, lead poisoning can affect nearly every system in the body. Children with lead poisoning may not look, act or feel sick, but they can develop learning and behavior problems.

How do children get lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning can happen slowly through several small exposures or quickly through a large exposure to lead. Young children are more susceptible to the toxic effects of lead because certain parts of their nervous system are still developing. Two common ways children absorb lead are through inhalation and ingestion.

Which items can cause lead poisoning in a child?

Lead paint, lead-contaminated soil or dust, imported candies and food, especially from Mexico, children’s jewelry made from metal, imported or handmade pottery and tableware that uses a leaded glaze, cosmetics from other countries (Kohl and Surma), imported food in cans that are sealed with lead solder, water-solder containing lead may be used to join water pipes together.

How does lead harm a child?

Even small amounts of lead harm children. At low levels of exposure, children may have behavior problems, and get angry and frustrated easily. They have a hard time learning new things, and may develop Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and have trouble succeeding in school.  At high levels, lead poisoning can cause headaches, stomachaches, hearing loss, attention problems, brain damage, anemia, coma and even death. Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when they are still forming, which may result in permanent loss of intelligence.

Is my child in danger of lead poisoning?

All children are at risk of lead poisoning. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; what race or culture you are or where you live; your child needs to be tested for lead.

When should I have my child tested?

All children need to be tested at 12 months and 24 months of age. If your child is already between 3 and 6 years of age and hasn’t been tested, they should be tested as well.

What else can I do to protect my child?

  • Wash your hands.
  • Wash toys, countertops and windowsills, mop floors weekly with detergent.
  • Do not give children imported candy or snacks if they contain chili or tamarind.
  • Don’t use imported foods that come in a can with wide seams.
  • When remodeling use a certified contractor who will use lead-safe work practices to clean up paint chips and peeling paint.  The EPA pamphlet “Renovate Right” is a good guide for choosing a contractor.
  • Do not use handmade, older, or imported dishes for eating, storing or serving food.
  • If you work with materials that may contain lead take your shoes off and change out of work clothes before entering the house and wash those clothes separately.
  • When moving into a home, ask the owner about any problems with lead, and know the age of the home.
  • Don’t let your child play in areas where soil is exposed.

Can lead poisoning be spread to other people?

No. Lead poisoning cannot be spread person-to-person.

How do you know if your child is lead-poisoned?

  • The only way to tell if your child is lead-poisoned is to get a blood test. 
  • At least one lead test must be on record to enter Kindergarten in Iowa.
  • All children should be lead tested at ages 1 and 2 and more frequently if at risk for lead poisoning.

What will happen if your child is lead-poisoned?

Someone from a local health or housing agency will visit you.  They will try to determine where your child is being exposed to lead.

Sources of Lead:

Children are exposed to lead from different sources (such as paint, gasoline, solder, and consumer products) and through different pathways (such as air, food, water, dust, and soil).  Although there are several exposure sources, lead-based paint is the most widespread and dangerous high-dose source of lead exposure for young children.  Keep your child away from areas of peeling and chipping paint.  Check the following areas:

  • Window sills
  • Window troughs
  • Outdoor play areas.

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