In the United States, about 900,000 children ages 1 to 5 have a blood-lead reading above the level of concern according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies. If not detected early, high levels of lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system along with behavioral and learning problems such as hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.
Although lead is more dangerous to children, it is also harmful to adults and can cause difficulties during pregnancy, reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain, according to the EPA.
You can get lead in your body by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips containing lead. According to the EPA, lead can be found in or around the following:
Lead-based paint used on homes built before 1978 (the federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978)
Soil around the home, which can contain lead from exterior paint or leaded gas
Household dust, which can contain lead from deteriorating lead-based paint or from soil tracked into the home
Drinking water. If you have plumbing with lead or lead solder, call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of it.
Your job. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands and clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes.
Old painted toys and furniture
Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain
Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air
Hobbies that include using lead, such as pottery, stained glass, or refinishing furniture
Folk remedies such as "greta" and "azarcon" used to treat an upset stomach
If you suspect that your home has lead hazards, have it inspected by a certified lead-based paint professional to ensure the assessment is performed properly and safely.
To reduce your child’s exposure to lead, consult with your doctor for advice on testing. A blood test can detect high levels of lead and your doctor can explain the results and whether more testing is needed.