What is lead poisoning? How do children become lead poisoned?
Lead poisoning is a disease. It is most dangerous for children under six years old. In young children, too much lead in the body can cause permanent harm to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. Even at low levels, lead in children's bodies can slow growth and cause learning and behavioral problems. The main way children get lead poisoned is by swallowing lead paint dust. They do not have to chew on leaded surfaces or eat paint chips to become poisoned. Most childhood lead poisoning is caused by children's normal behavior of putting their hands or other things, such as toys, in their mouths. If their hands or these objects have touched lead dust, this may add lead to their bodies. Children can also be exposed to lead from such other sources as lead-contaminated soil or water, but these sources alone rarely cause lead poisoning. Lead can be found in soil near old, lead-painted houses. If children play in bare, leaded soil, or eat vegetables or fruit grown in such soil, or if leaded soil is tracked into the home and gets on children's hands or toys, lead may enter their bodies.


What are the symptoms of lead poisoning? How is it detected?
Most lead poisoned children have no special symptoms. The only way to find out if a child is lead poisoned is to have his or her blood tested. If your child has been exposed to lead, or if you do not know if your child under age six has been screened for lead, ask your child's doctor, other health care provider or your local board of health for a simple screening test of your child.


What is the treatment for lead poisoning?
Treatment of a lead poisoned child starts with finding and removing the lead hazards to which the child is exposed. This will include a lead inspection of the child's home, and if lead hazards are identified, deleading of the home. Medical treatment depends on the child's blood lead level and the child's response to the removal of the lead source. Parents will be taught about protecting their child from lead exposure. They will need to watch the child's progress through frequent blood tests. If necessary, the child may receive special drugs to help rid his body of excess lead. With this treatment, drugs are given daily for as long as several weeks. Sometimes this must be done more than once. A child who has been lead poisoned will need a lot of blood tests for a year or more. He or she should be tested for learning problems before starting school.


Are children under six years old the only ones at risk of lead poisoning?
No. Young children are usually more easily and seriously poisoned than older children or adults, but lead is harmful to everyone. Lead in the body of a pregnant woman can hurt her baby before birth. Older children and adults who live in older housing with lead paint hazards may become exposed to lead and could potentially develop lead poisoning through home renovation. Most lead poisoning in adults is caused by work-related exposure or home renovation. Even hobby supplies, such as stained glass, bullets and fishing sinkers, can expose people to lead. Lead poisoning in adults can cause high blood pressure, problems having children for both men and women, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory loss and problems concentrating, and muscle and joint pain. Adults who have any of these symptoms and who have been exposed to lead should consider being screened for lead. Those who are regularly exposed to lead through their work are required by law to have their blood tested once a year for lead.


What are the dangers of lead paint in homes, and when was it used?
Lead paint in homes causes almost all childhood lead poisoning. Lead is so harmful that even a small amount of fine lead dust that cannot be seen can poison a child. Lead paint covered by layers of nonleaded paint can still poison children, especially when it is disturbed, such as through normal wear and tear, or home repair work. When such lead paint is on moving surfaces, such as windows, fine lead dust is released through normal use. This dust settles, where it can be easily picked up on children's toys and fingers. Household paint with poisonous (now illegal) levels of lead was in use in California from the 1690s until 1978. In 1978, the U.S. government banned lead from house paint. Lead can be found in all types of pre-1978 homes: homes in cities, suburbs or the countryside; private housing and state or federal public housing; single-family and multi-family homes. The older the house, the more likely it is to contain lead paint. The older the paint, the higher the likely lead content.