Lead Poisoning and Exposures FAQ

Environmental Health
Public Health

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What you need to know

​​​​​​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 ca​n be detected by a blood test from a doctor.​

What are the health effects of lead exposure?

Exposure to lead can harm a child's health. Lead can cause:
  • ​Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Hearing and speech 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.​

Learn more

See Sou​rce of Lead​ to learn all the places where lead can be found in the environment. 

Who is at risk for lead exposure?

​Children under the age of 6 years old

Young children are the most at risk for the health impacts of lead exposure because their bodies are rapidly growing and more sensitive to lead. Children under age 3 are especially​ at risk because they tend to put their hands or other objects contaminated with lead into their mouth.

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 women

Lead can be passed from a mother to her unborn baby. Some pregnant or breastfeeding women at risk for lead exposure may need a lead test. If you are pregnant and think you may have been exposed to lead, talk to your healthcare provider about getting a blood lead test.

Families using products known to contain lead

Some spices, cultural products, and medicines have been found to contain lead. Visit Sources of Lead to find a list of products that can 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. ​For list of jobs and hobbies involving lead, visit Sources of Lead.

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, children should get a lead screening test if they are enrolled in Medicaid, live in a high-risk zip code, or have another risk factor identified on a screening questionnaire. Testing should occur around ages 1 and 2 years. If your child is 3, 4, or 5 years old, they may need a lead test if they have not already had one.  

Learn more about Testing for Lead Poisoning

To learn more about testing recommendations, visit Lead Info for Parents and Caregivers​.

How can I protect my child from lead?

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

​Lead Exposure Prevention Tips

Visit Prevention Tips for Parents​ to learn more about how to prevent lead poisoning and exposures. 

Contact Information
Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
Phone Number
(402) 471-2937
Toll Free Number
(888) 242-1100
Fax Number
(402) 471-3601
Mailing Address
PO Box 95026, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-5026