Lead Poisoning and Exposures FAQ

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    What is lead?

    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.

    How does lead harm the body?

    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.

    How are children and adults exposed to lead?

    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.

    • See Sources of Lead for more detailed information on where lead is found.

    Who is most at risk for lead exposure?

    Children under the age of 6 years old

    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.

    Children living in or spending time in homes built before 1978

    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.

    People living in homes built before 1978 undergoing renovation or remodeling

    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.

    Pregnant or nursing women

    Lead can harm to her unborn baby or child. Some pregnant or nursing women at risk for lead exposure may need a lead test.

    Families using products known to contain lead

    Some spices, cultural products, and medicines have been found to contain lead.

    Children with parents who are exposed to lead at work

    Parents can take lead home with them on their clothes and shoes and create lead hazards in the home.

    Adults exposed to lead form their work or hobby

    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.

    How can I tell if my child has too much lead in their body?

    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 CDC reference blood lead level is 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) for children, so a blood lead level of 3.5 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.

    Which children should tested or screened for lead?

    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.

    DHHS recommends the following criteria to help determine if your child should get a lead test:

    1. If your child lives in a targeted community or high risk zip code, or
    2. If your child is enrolled in Medicaid or WIC, or
    3. If your child is at risk based on answering "yes" to at least one of the risk questions.
      • Does the child live in or often visit a house, daycare, preschool, home of a relative, etc., built before 1950?
      • Does the child live in or often visit a house built before 1978 that has been remodeled within the last year?
      • Does the child have a brother, sister or playmate with lead poisoning?
      • Does the child live with an adult whose job or hobby involves lead?
      • Does the child's family use any home remedies or cultural practices that may contain or use lead?
      • Is the child included in a special population group, i.e., foreign adoptee, refugee, migrant, immigrant, foster care child?

    For more information on testing and list of targeted communities and zip codes, see Information for Health Professionals.

    How can I protect my child from lead?

    Lead Exposure Prevnetion Tips

    To learn more how parents can prevent lead poisoning and exposures, see Prevention Information for Parents.

    The best way to protect children is to prevent lead exposure before they are harmed. The most important step is stopping children from coming into contact with lead. There are many ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead:
    • Have your child visit a doctor ask about blood lead testing
    • Find lead in the child's environment
    • Keep children away from lead paint and lead dust
    • Renovate safely
    • Clean and maintain your home
    • Make sure your child has a healthy diet

    Contact Information
    Lead-Based Paint Program  / Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
    Phone Number
    (402) 471-0386
    Toll Free Number
    (888) 242-1100
    Fax Number
    (402) 471-8833
    Mailing Address
    P.O. Box 95026, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-5026