Lead Poisoning

An Overview

Clinical Definition

"Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over a period of months or years... At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal." (Mayo Clinic, 2014)

"Blood levels of of 10 micrograms/deciliter (mcg/dL) are considered unsafe, while levels greater than 70 mcg/dL are considered a medical emergency." (Dancer, 2007)

Causes of Lead Exposure

Lead enters the blood stream through skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion of products or objects that contain lead. (Johnson, 2008)

Some common sources of lead exposure are:

  • lead-based paint in older homes (before 1978)
  • plumbing/pipes/faucets
  • drinking water
  • household dust
  • toys manufactured outside of U.S.
  • contaminated soil
  • lead-glazed pottery
  • lead crystal
  • storage batteries
  • lead bullets
  • old painted toys and furniture

(NIEHS, 2014; Perez, 2013)


The following chart by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) depicts the number of children tested and the number of children confirmed to have lead poisoning, by year:

(CDC, 2015)

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  • abdominal pain & cramps
  • headaches
  • Anemia
  • aggressive behavior
  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability
  • decreased appetite
  • low energy
  • reduced sensations
  • constipation
  • in children: loss of previous developmental skills

(Perez, 2013)

Risk Factors

  • Age: Lead is more harmful to children than it is to adults. Children under age 6 have the highest risk of being exposed to lead. Unborn children are the most vulnerable to lead exposure. (NIEHS, 2014; Perez, 2013)
  • Living in an old home
  • Hobbies such as glass staining, pottery glazing, jewelry making, and refurnishing old furniture
  • Living in a developing country
  • Minority populations - African American children nearly 3 times more susceptible
  • Socioeconomic status

(Johnson, 2008;Mayo Clinic, 2014; Perez, 2014)

Long Term Health Effects


  • decreased IQ
  • increased incidence of attention and behavioral problems
  • delayed puberty
  • reduced postnatal growth
  • decreased hearing


  • decreased kidney function
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased risk of hypertension
  • Chronic lead exposure can lead to nerve disorders, decreased fertility, muscle or joint pain, cataracts and memory or concentration problems

(NIEHS, 2014)


  • find out when your home was constructed
  • keep children away from peeling surfaces that may contain lead
  • wash children's toys and hands often
  • wash floors and windows often to get rid of possible leaded dust

(NIEHS, 2014)