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Lead Poisoning



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Last Edited: 9/30/2010

Lead Poisoning: What is it?

Lead is a natural mineral that has been used in many products and is harmful to the human body.  Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body.  Lead poisoning is the most common environmental illness in California children and it is preventable.


What is lead?

Lead is a natural mineral that has been used in many products and is harmful to the human body.  There is no known safe level of lead in the blood.  Even small amounts may cause learning and behavior problems.

Visit the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch for more information on what is lead.

 

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What are common sources of lead?

Although the United States has taken many steps to remove sources of lead, lead is still present in our environment. 

 

Common sources of lead include:

  • Lead-based paint (pre-1978)
    • Prior to 1978, lead was a common ingredient in most paints.  It may have been used both inside and outside of a home and on furniture or objects in the home. 
    • Children may eat paint chips or chew on the surfaces of cribs, highchairs, windows, woodwork, walls, doors, or railings.
  • Lead-contaminated soil
    • Lead may be in the soil where children play, especially near busy roadways or factories.  The lead from gasoline used for many years has settled onto soil and is difficult to remove.  This soil may also be tracked inside on shoes and clothing.
  • Lead-contaminated dust from paint or soil
    • It clings to windowsills, floors, doorways and children's toys, and is dangerous to young children who crawl and often put their hands and other objects in their mouths.
  • Take-home exposure in the dust brought home on clothing, equipment, or in the car or truck driven from work
    • Lead dust can also come from hobbies that use lead. 
    • Common jobs and hobbies that use lead include battery manufacturing, radiator repair, construction, soldering, recycling, painting, demolition, scrap metal recycling, working with stained glass, pottery making, target shooting, and casting fishing weights.  
  • Imported food in cans that are sealed with lead solder
    • Some countries other than the United States still allow lead solder in food cans.  Cans that have lead solder have very wide seams.
  • Imported home remedies and imported cosmetics may contain lead
    • They often are imported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico.  The remedies are often bright yellow or orange in color. 
    • Examples include: Alarcon, Alkohl, Azarcon, Bali goli, Bint al zahab, Coral, Greta, Farouk, Ghasard, Kandu, Kohl, Liga, Litargirio, Lozeena, Pay-loo-ah, Sindoor, and Surma.  There are many others.
  • Imported or handmade pottery and tableware with leaded glaze
    • The lead from the glaze gets into food and beverages when these ceramics are used for cooking or storing food.
  • Imported candies or foods, especially from Mexico, containing chili or tamarind may contain lead
    • Lead can be found in candy, wrappers, pottery containers, and in certain ethnic foods, such as chapulines (dried grasshoppers).
  • Metal jewelry
    • Lead has been found in inexpensive children's jewelry found on vending machines across the country.  It has also been found in inexpensive metal amulets worn for good luck or protection.  Some costume jewelry designed for adults has also been found to contain lead. 
    • It is important to make sure that children don't handle, mouth, or swallow any jewelry.

Visit the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch for more information on sources of lead.

 

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What is lead poisoning?

Small amounts of lead can build up in the body and cause lifelong learning and behavior problems.  Buildup of lead in the body is referred to as lead poisoning.  Lead poisoning is the most common environmental illness in California children and it is preventable.

Lead can have the following effects, especially in children:

  • Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when they are still forming
  • Lead can lead to a low blood cell count (anemia)
  • Small amounts of lead in the body can make it hard for children to learn, pay attention, and succeed in school
  • Higher amounts of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and other major organs-- very high exposure can lead to seizures or death

Visit the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch for more information on what is lead poisoning.

 

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What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick.  Symptoms, if present, may be confused with common childhood complaints, such as:

  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Crankiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue

The only way to know if you or your child has lead poisoning is to get a blood test for lead.  Talk to your health care provider.  You or your child may need a blood test for lead poisoning.

Visit the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch for more information on the symptoms of lead poisoning.

 

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How is lead poisoning diagnosed? 

The only way to know if your child has lead poisoning is to obtain a blood lead level (BLL).  A BLL can be assessed when your child gets his/her blood drawn in a hospital or clinical setting, and the blood is tested for lead.  If you would like your child to be tested for lead, talk to your health care provider. 

 

Depending on the level of lead in the blood, there are possible health effects:

   Blood Lead Level (mcg/dL)
 Possible Health Effects
   less than 10  Decreased IQ, developmental toxicity (No known lower level for effects)
   10 - 44  Behavior problems (hyperactivity, irritability), overt physical symptoms rare
   45 - 69  Apathy/fatigue, anemia, abdominal symptoms (pain, constipation, nausea/vomiting)
   70 - 100  Nephropathy, colic, encephalopathy
   above 100  Central Nervous System crisis (cerebral edema, ischemia, seizure, coma, possible death)

 

The following groups should be tested: 

  • Children age 12 months and 24 months who are enrolled in publicly funded health care
    • Examples of publicly funded health care include Medi-Cal, Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), or Healthy Families
    • Cost for the test is covered by government health programs and most health insurance plans
  • Children enrolled in publicly-funded health care who are between 24 months and 6 years old that have not been tested at 24 months
  • Young children under six years of age who spend time in homes, childcare centers, or buildings built before 1978 that have chipping or peeling paint
  • Any infant or child who is thought to be at risk or comes in contact with items that may contain lead

Visit the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch for more information on how lead poisoning is diagnosed.

 

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