Before we knew how harmful it could be, lead was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products. As a result lead can now be found in the dust in some homes, in paint, in soil around our homes, in drinking water, and in some dishes and pottery.
The greatest exposure to lead in our current environment is the lead-based paint found in older homes. Before 1978, household paint often contained lead, especially the paints used for trim areas such as windows, doors, and railings. As the paint ages, it can chip or crumble into dust. Remodeling projects also increase the amount of exposure as the paint is disturbed. See also other sources of lead.
Lead poisoning occurs when an individual breathes or ingests the lead. The lead then enters the blood and accumulates in the body over time. Continual exposure causes the levels of lead in the body to increase causing symptoms of lead poisoning to develop gradually. By the time physical symptoms are visible the amount of lead in the body has reached a dangerous level.
Lead is highly toxic and exposure to it can be dangerous, especially for children who are 6 or younger. Young children are at particular risk of lead poisoning because their bodies are developing rapidly and they frequently place their hands, toys, and other objects in their mouths.
Lead poisoning is not easy to detect. Sometimes no symptoms occur, and sometimes the early symptoms are the same as those of more common illnesses.
If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:
Find out if your child has elevated blood lead levels. You can test your child for lead poisoning by asking your pediatrician to do a simple blood test or by contacting your county health department.
The only way to know for sure if lead is in your home -- in paint, water, soil, dishes, etc -- is to test for it.
Last updated July 6, 2020