Lead Poisoning

The building you live in, or are about to move into, was built before 1978. About three out of four buildings have some old lead-based paint that could poison your child!

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning means having too much lead in the body.

Lead can:

  • Cause major health problems, mostly in children under 6 years old.
  • Damage a child’s brain, nervous system, kidneys, hearing, or coordination.
  • Affect learning.
  • Cause behavior problems, blindness, and even death.

Who Gets Lead Poisoning?

Anyone can get it.  Children under 6 are at the greatest risk. Their bodies are not fully grown and are easily harmed. The risk is worse if the child:

  • Lives in an older home (built before 1960).
  • Does not eat regular meals. (An empty stomach accepts lead more easily.)
  • Does not eat enough foods with iron or calcium.
  • Has parents who work in lead-related jobs.
  • Has played in the same places as brothers, sisters, and friends who have been poisoned. (Lead poison cannot be spread from person to person. It comes from contact with lead.)
  • Women of childbearing age are also at risk. Lead poisoning can cause miscarriages and premature births. The poison can be passed on to unborn babies.

Where Does It Come From?

  • Lead dust from moving parts of windows and doors that are painted with lead-based paint.
  • Lead-based paint on wood trim, walls, cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms, porches, stairs, railings, fire escapes and lamp posts.
  • Soil contaminated from lead-based paint and leaded gasoline.
  • Drinking water where old lead pipes or lead solder was used.
  • Work clothes, skin, and hair of parents who work with lead products.
  • Colored printing and car batteries.
  • Highly glazed pottery and cookware from other countries.
  • Removing old paint when refinishing furniture.

Lead dust and paint chips containing lead are produced when lead-based paint is scraped, rubbed, hit, or exposed to the weather, or when moisture causes the paint to peel. The dust and chips get on children’s hands, toys, and pacifiers.

When children put their fingers, toys, or pacifiers in their mouths, lead gets in their bodies. Sometimes they will also chew on an easy-to-reach lead-based paint surface, like a window sill.

In recent years some uses of lead have been cut back or ended. This is true for lead in gasoline, lead in solder used water pipes, and lead in paint. But a lot of lead remains in and around older homes, and lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning.

How Do I Know My Child Is Affected?

Is your child:

  • cranky?
  • vomiting?
  • tired?
  • unwilling to eat or play?
  • complaining about stomach aches or headaches?
  • unable to concentrate?
  • jumpy?
  • playing in the same area where other children who have these symptoms play?

These can be signs of lead poisoning, but your child might not show these signs and still be poisoned. Only your clinic or doctor can tell by testing to be sure.

What Can I Do About It?

Take your child to the doctor or a clinic for a blood-lead test. A blood-lead test should be done first when children are between six and twelve months old. The test may be available through a blood-lead screening program operated by the health department in your community. Be sure to get an official written statement of your child’s blood-lead level. Based on the test, a doctor or clinic will tell you if your child has too much lead in the blood, whether any treatment is needed, and how often you should have your child tested. A small amount of lead in the blood may not make your child seem very sick, but it can affect how well he or she can learn.

What Do I Do Next?

  1. If your child has an unsafe amount of lead in the blood, you should immediately show the results of the blood test to your landlord or other responsible person. Depending on the blood-lead level, it may be necessary to have your home test for lead-based paint hazards.
    1. If you rent your home, show the blood-lead test results to your management office, landlord, or housing authority, whichever fits your case.
    2. If you own or are buying your home and are applying for rehabilitation, homebuyer, or other housing assistance, you should show the blood-lead test results to your community development office or other responsible agency.
  2. Check your own home for peeling paint. If your home has defective paint – that is chipping, peeling, scaling, flaking, or loose paint – and you have a child under six years old, you should report the condition to the same people: the landlord, management office, the housing authority, or the community development office – whichever fits your case. Report it even if your child does not have a high amount of lead in the blood. If defective paint has lead in it, the paint is very hazardous to young children.

What Do I Do If My Home Does Have Lead?

Do not try to get rid of lead-base paint yourself. You could make things worse for you and your family.

If you rent your home and you or your landlord are receiving rental assistance, and if your child has a high amount of lead in the blood, and your home contains lead-based paint, then your landlord, management office, housing authority, or community development office is required to get rid of the hazard safely in accordance with HUD requirements, or move you and your family to a unit not contaminated with lead.

These are things you can do now to protect your children. You should do them whether your child has an unsafe amount of lead in the blood or not.

  • Keep your children away from paint chips and dust.
  • Wet-mop floors and wipe down surfaces often, especially where the floors and walls meet. Be sure to clean the space where the window sash rests on the sill. Lead-based paint chips or dust SHOULD NOT be broom-swept or vacuumed with an ordinary vacuum cleaner or vacuum sweeper. Lead dust is so fine. It will pass through a vacuum cleaner bag and spread into the air you breathe.
  • Make sure your children wash their hands often and always before eating.
  • Wash toys, teething rings, and pacifiers often.
  • Help keep your home in good shape. Water leaks from pips, roofs, or outside cracks will let in dampness that causes paint to peel. These problems should be fixed right away.

Where Can I Get More Information?

For more information, call your local health department, or call the National Lead Information Center toll free at 1.800.532.3394.

REMINDER: You are required to sign an Affidavit acknowledging that you have read this information on Lead-Based Paint, either on this web site or in the pamphlet provided by the Housing Authority. This form should be included in your packet of loan paperwork.