Lead is a toxic metal that is has been used in products for centuries. Lead is still found all across Nebraska. Children and adults can get too much lead in their body if they are exposed to lead in their environment. When it enters the body, lead can build up and cause damage. Lead exposure can be detected by a blood test from a doctor.
In children, lead can cause learning, behavior and health problems. No amount of lead is safe. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.
In adults, lead can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney damage, and reduced fertility. In pregnant women, lead can increase the risk for premature and low-birth weight newborns.
Most people with lead poisoning or high blood lead levels do not have symptoms.
Children are exposed to lead by swallowing or breathing in small amounts of lead. Lead-based paint is the most common source of lead exposure in children. Lead-based paint is found in many homes built before 1978. When lead paint breaks down over time, it creates lead dust that can contaminate the home and can get on children's hands, toys, bottles, and pacifiers.
Lead can be found in sources other than lead paint and dust inside a house. These other sources of lead include soil around a house, a parent's occupation, toys, and spices and medicines from other countries.
In adults, lead exposure most commonly occurs at a person's work or hobby.
Young children are most at risk because their bodies are rapidly developing and because they tend to put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths.
Lead-based paint was used in homes until it was banned in 1978. The older your home is, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint. Children living in homes built before 1978 and especially built before 1950 are at higer risk for lead exposure.
Renovation work in homes with lead paint can create hazardous lead dust. If renovation or lead removal work is not done properly, family members can be exposed to lead.
Lead can harm to her unborn baby or child. Some pregnant or nursing women at risk for lead exposure may need a lead test.
Some spices, cultural products, and medicines have been found to contain lead.
Parents can take lead home with them on their clothes and shoes and create lead hazards in the home.
Adults who work around lead are at risk for exposure. High risk occupations where lead exposure can occur include construction, ammunition manufacturing, battery manufacturing, foundries, firing ranges, and metal recycling.
Adults who have certain hobbies or other non-work activities are also at risk. Bullet making, stained glass work, ceramic and jewelry making, home remodeling are all activities that can cause lead exposure.
Most children with too much lead in their bodies do not seem sick or have symptoms. A doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine how much lead is present. The reference blood lead level is 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) for children and adults, so a blood lead level of 5 mcg/dL or higher is considered elevated.
If a blood lead test is elevated, more testing will be done to ensure the blood lead level goes down. To get your child tested for lead, ask your child's doctor about blood lead testing.
Adults who are exposed to lead through their work or hobbies should also be tested regularly.
Parents concerned about lead exposure should ask your child's doctor about blood lead testing. Generally, young children should get a lead screening test around ages 1 and 2 if they meet any of the three criteria below. If your child is 3, 4, or 5 years old, they may need a lead test if they have not already had one.
For more information on testing and list of targeted communities and zip codes, see Information for Health Professionals.
To learn more how parents can prevent lead poisoning and exposures, see Prevention Information for Parents.