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Lead Poisoning: Knowing the Facts

Even though the United States banned the use of lead-based paints in homes, toys and furniture in 1978, lead poisoning continues to be a serious problem. Lead is most often found in lead-based paints used in older homes of families in more urban and underdeveloped areas. Lead poisoning can affect both children and adults but is most detrimental to children under the age of 6 years old.

Lead is most often ingested by children putting lead-based toys, paint chips or their contaminated fingers in their mouths. Lead poisoning can be diagnosed with a blood test and is measured in micrograms per deciliter. No safe level of exposure has been identified, and children with levels of 5 mcg/dL or higher may be at risk.

Prolonged lead poisoning can take place over several months and even years, and symptoms may not present themselves until high levels of exposure have accumulated. Toxic levels are rarely experienced through a single exposure. Symptoms of lead poisoning in children can include developmental delays, learning difficulties, hearing loss, weight loss, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, constipation, irritability, fatigue, and vomiting. Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults can include joint and muscle pain, high blood pressure, headaches, memory loss, mood changes, abdominal pain, decline in mental functioning, constipation, pain or numbness in extremities, abnormal or reduced sperm count, and miscarriage or premature birth in women.

In addition to seeking treatment for an individual with lead poisoning, the source of the lead should be identified and removed. Call your local health department if you know of or suspect lead contamination, and prevent potentially devastating consequences to the health, safety, and development of young lives.