How are people exposed to lead?
The primary source of elevated blood lead levels is lead-based paint and leaded household dust, especially around windows. Secondary sources of lead exposure can include soil, drinking water, imported jewelry and toys, antiques, imported dishes, and traditional or “folk” remedies. Lead exposure can also occur with jobs or hobbies where lead is involved.
Who is most at risk?
Children under the age of six years old are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that have lead from dust or soil into their mouths.
Adults can also be exposed to lead. Lead exposure for pregnant women is a particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby. Utero exposure to low levels of lead can affect infant and child growth and neurodevelopment. Young children with prenatal lead exposure can have lower IQ scores, impairment in hearing and motor development, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended to identify pregnant women at increased risk for lead exposure. Check with your health care provider about having a blood lead test if you feel you are at risk for lead exposure while pregnant.
How do I know if my child has been exposed?
There are often no signs or symptoms of lead exposure. Children may have an elevated blood lead level and not look or act sick. The only way to know if your child is being affected by lead is to get a blood lead test. If you are pregnant or have a child under the age of six, talk to your doctor about lead testing.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (WCLPPP) have determined that a child has been exposed to lead with a blood lead test of 5 mcg/dl or above. Waukesha County Public Health, the CDC, and the WCLPPP recommend a child to be tested for lead at age one and age two. If your child is under the age of six and has never been tested (or has no record of a previous test), has a history of lead exposure, or is at greater risk of lead exposure, be sure to talk to your health care provider or clinic about testing. Increased risk may mean living in housing built before 1978 with recent or ongoing renovations or having a sibling or playmate who has an elevated blood lead level. Your healthcare provider, your local health department, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Clinic are the best places to get tested. Lead tests are often offered with WIC appointments. Most insurance plans pay for lead testing. Medicaid pays for the required testing for Medicaid-eligible children.
How do I prevent childhood lead exposure?
The most important way to prevent childhood lead poisoning is to keep children from coming into contact with lead by controlling or removing lead hazards from their environments. Be sure you know the sources of lead and the ways you can take steps to control or remove these hazards from your child’s environment.
How do I know if the paint in my house contains lead?
If your house was built before 1978, there is a greater chance that it may contain lead-based paint. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services provides a listing of all licensed lead companies on their site. For a fee they can perform a risk assessment on your house to determine if it contains lead paint.
How can I learn if my water is lead-free?
If your house was built before 1986, there is an increased risk that pipes and other plumbing fixtures contain lead. You can verify this by having your water tested. Contact Waukesha County Environmental Health, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, a licensed plumber, or a water testing laboratory to get more information and guidance about water testing.