Polk County Health Department

Who is at risk for lead poisoning?

Who is at risk for lead poisoning?
  • Children under the age of 6 year and especially under the age of 3, are at risk for lead poisoning if there are lead-based paint chips or its invisible dust on the floor, window sills, or in the dirt around the perimeter of the home.

  • Children can be exposed to lead in their own home or in the home of a relative or daycare provider.

  • The only way to tell if a child is lead-poisoned is to do a blood lead test.

  • There is no known safe level of lead in the body.
How do children become lead-poisoned? 
  • When a child in Iowa is lead-poisoned, paint in poor condition is usually the source. Children can be lead-poisoned if they:
    • Put dusty or dirty hands, toys, bottles, or pacifiers in their mouths. Household dust in older homes often contains lead from old paint. This dust gets on children’s hands, toys, bottles, and pacifiers.
    • Put lead-based paint chips in their mouths.
    • Chew on surfaces painted with lead-based paint. Children who are teething may chew on window sills and stair railings.
    • Play in dirt or a sandbox near an old building or where an old building was torn down. This soil could be contaminated with lead-based paint chips or dust. Children may put the dirt or sand in their mouths. Or, the dirt or sand may stick to their hands and toys that they put in their mouths.
    • Breathe in dust from lead-based paint that is being scraped, sanded, or removed with a heat gun. Children and pregnant women should leave the area before the work begins and not return until the work area has been completely cleaned.
    • Play in or near windows and other areas where there are paint chips. These paint chips can be ground into small pieces and dust that stick to children’s hands and toys. Children often put their hands and toys into their mouths. Children like to look out of open windows and play at window sills. In Iowa, lead-based paint chips/dust found between the inside window sash and the screen/storm window cause many cases of childhood lead poisoning. Most Iowa homes built before 1960 have peeling or chipping lead-based paint in this area.
Lead poisoning risks for children:
  • Your child may be at risk for lead poisoning if s/he is under the age of 6 years and:
    • Your home was built before 1960
    • Your home has cracking, peeling, or chipping paint
    • Your child regularly visits in a house built before 1960 with cracking or peeling paint
    • Your child regularly visits a house that is being renovated or remodeled
    • Your home has been under renovation or remodeling
    • Your child has a sibling, housemate, or a playmate with confirmed lead poisoning
    • Your child lives with an adult whose job or hobby involves exposure to land
    • You live near an active lead smelter, battery recycling plant, or other industry that might release lead
    • Your child drinks well water
    • Your home has lead or copper pipes soldered with lead

  • If any of the above statements are true, your child may be at risk for lead poisoning.

  • If not detected early, children with lead poisoning can experience the following:
    • Irreversible brain damage and damage to the nervous system
    • Learning/behavior problems, such as hyperactivity
    • Slowed growth
    • Hearing problems
    • Kidney problems
    • Severe headaches
    • High doses of lead may cause convulsions and even death

  • For more information contact Carolyn Schaefer, Polk County Health Department (515) 323-5232.
What are the signs of lead poisoning in children?
  • Most lead-poisoned children do not show any signs of the disease. Some, however, may have the following symptoms:
    • Easily excited
    • Not able to pay attention
    • Stomach aches
    • More tired than usual

  • Lead-poisoned children may have learning and behavior problems as they grow older. Children with very high lead levels may develop seizures, become unconscious, or even die.

  • Lead is more dangerous to children than to adults because:
    • Children absorb more lead than adults
    • Children are more likely to be damaged by lead than adults

Contact Us

Phone: (515)-286-3798
Fax: (515)-286-2033
Toll free: 866-209-1300

Address: 1907, Carpenter Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50314