Lead Poisoning Facts and Frequently Asked Questions

Learn about lead, lead poisoning, and other facts and frequently asked questions below

Lead is a chemical element and heavy metal with a high toxicity level. It is bluish-white in color and can be found anywhere from paint to toys. It is also a naturally occurring product of the Earth so it can be easily found in water, soil, and dust.

Lead is not normally found in the human body and there is no way for the body to produce lead naturally. Lead poisoning occurs when too much lead gets stored in the body. It usually enters the body through eating and breathing. When lead enters the body it is stored in the bones and other parts of the body. The body mistakes lead for iron and stores it in bones and the nervous system, though it affects nearly every system. Lead poisoning usually not outwardly visible in kids although it might be to blame for learning delays and behavior problems. There is currently no way to effectively treat lead exposure. The best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to remove the source of lead from your home and get your child tested. For more serious cases chelation therapy is used.

In the past lead was widely used in such things as household paint, gasoline, pipes and pesticides. The use of lead has been restricted in these and many other products, but a person may still become exposed to lead from a variety of sources. The following is a list of common lead sources:

  • Pottery, ceramics and dishware
  • Imported toys
  • Work and hobby activities, such as indoor firing range construction, remodeling, radiator repair, pottery making
  • Paint chips from interior and exterior paint in homes built before 1978
  • Painted antique items, including furniture
  • Soil, especially in dense urban areas and playgrounds
  • Household dust, and debris from older building renovation
  • Contaminated drinking water due to leaching in homes with lead pipes, lead solder, brass fixtures, and/or brass valves
  • Imported cosmetics
  • Imported candy
  • Traditional home remedies, such as Greta and Azarcon, an orange powder used to treat upset stomach (empacho) in the Hispanic culture, Ghasard used as a tonic in Indian folk remedy, and Ba-baw-san, a Chinese herbal remedy used to treat colic pain or to pacify young children

Visit the our Lead Recall webpage (coming soon!) for information on products recalled due to lead contamination.

Lead is usually introduced into the body through ingestion or inhalation. A person typically eats foods or puts other items contaminated with lead into his mouth or breathes in dust or fumes containing lead.
Children under the age of 6 years are at greater risk of elevated blood lead levels because of normal hand to mouth activity in areas or with items potentially contaminated with lead. Additionally, because certain parts of their nervous system are in the early stages of development, they are more susceptible to the toxic effects of lead.
Children are more susceptible to the effects of lead exposure because their body and brain is still developing. They are at the most risk because they spend a lot of their time on the floor and explore the world with their hands and mouths. A child's exposure to lead can occur slowly or quickly depending on how they are exposed.
Even at low levels of exposure, children may develop behavior problems and get angry and frustrated easily. They have a hard time learning new things, and may develop Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and have trouble succeeding in school. At high levels, lead poisoning can cause headaches, hearing loss, brain damage, anemia, coma, and even death. Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when they are still forming, which may result in permanent loss of intelligence.

Symptoms in children and adults are generally not the same. Table 1 is a comparison of lead poisoning symptoms as seen in children and adults. Many adults and children may not have any noticeable symptoms of lead poisoning.

Table 1. Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Children Adults
Anemia Anemia
Abdominal pain Abdominal pain
Constipation Depression
Decreased appetite Fatigue
Diarrhea Gout
Learning problems Heart failure
Lowered IQ High blood pressure
Sleeplessness Kidney failure
Tiredness Reproductive problems
Vomiting Wrist or foot weakness

Most doctors familiar with lead poisoning prescribe chelation therapy if blood lead levels become excessively high, to help extract lead from the soft tissue and flush it from the body.

Chelation therapy uses agents to bind to lead stored in the bones and organs. The agent and bound lead are disposed of through normal elimination.

This therapy may be used for children with very high lead levels but will only lower those levels. It will not repair the damage already done to the body. Once lead is in the body, the damage it causes cannot be reversed.

At lower levels of lead poisoning, doctors will stress the importance of a sensible diet to aid in the reduction of lead in the body. Consult your doctor for further information and methods of treatment.

Table 2 shows some health effects resulting from lead poisoning.

Table 2. Health Effects of Lead Poisoning

Children Adults
Behavioral problems Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Damage to kidneys, nervous system and brain Reproductive complications (e.g., infertility in males; miscarriages in females)
Learning disabilities Cancer
Loss of visual and motor skills
Slowed or stunted growth
  • Always wash your hands, fruits, and vegetables before eating
  • Feed your child regular meals with a diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C and low in fat
  • Do not eat imported goods (candy, snacks, etc…) that are suspected of containing lead.
  • Do not give your children any home remedies unless approved by your child’s pediatrician
  • Remove your shoes before entering your home
  • If lead paint has been found in your house, eliminate contaminated dust by using a solution of TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and water.
  • Damp mop floors and clean other surfaces with a cloth or sponge that will not be re-used on dishes, eating, drinking or cooking utensils.
  • Block painted window sills and moldings with heavy furniture to keep children away.
  • Install vinyl siding over exterior lead painted surfaces.
  • Plant grass to control dust.
  • Reduce children’s contact with soil if your house was built before 1978 or is near a major highway.
  • Plant bushes near exterior walls to keep children away.
  • Test your water for lead content and assure that it is within recommended limits.
  • Run tap water for 60 seconds before using it whenever the water may have been standing awhile.
  • Use cold tap water for drinking, cooking and making infant formula because it carries less lead. (Boiling the water concentrates the lead.)
  • Check pottery, china and leaded glassware for lead content.
All children are at risk of lead poisoning.
No. Children with lead poisoning often look and act normal on the surface.
All children should be tested for lead at 12 months and again at 24 months. Any children between the ages of 3 and 6 who have never been tested should be screened for lead as well. Ask your child’s health care provider about getting a simple blood test.

Childhood blood lead level screenings can be done by your child’s health care provider. Some doctors in Nevada do not know that lead is a problem here and may not offer the test to you. Insist that your child be tested for lead. A blood test is the only way to know if your child may have been exposed.

If you do not have a health care provider, blood lead testing is available at the Southern Nevada Health District’s main facility at 280 S. Decatur Blvd. Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. for children between the ages of 1 and 5. Most insurance companies cover the cost of lead screenings for children.

The Southern Nevada Health District accepts most insurance as well as Medicaid and Nevada Check-Up. If you are uninsured, testing is $20. Appointments are not needed. For additional information, call (702) 759-1000.

Contact your doctor or call the Southern Nevada Health District Lead Program at (702) 759-1000.

  • CDC - Lead Poisoning site

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/

  • Las Vegas Medicaid District Office

medicaid.nv.gov (702) 668-4200 1210 S. Valley View Blvd., Ste. 104 Las Vegas, NV 8910

  • Nevada Check Up — Division of Welfare and Supportive Services

dwss.nv.gov/medical/ncumain  1-800-543-7669 The Nevada Check Up program provides low-cost, comprehensive health care coverage to low-income, uninsured children (birth through 18) who are not covered by private insurance or Medicaid.

  • WIC Program of the Nevada State Division of Public and Behavioral Health

nevadawic.org/for-families/closest-clinic 1-800-8-NEV-WIC (1-800-863-8942) Work with your WIC nutritionist for information about a healthy diet for your child.

  • Southern Nevada Early Childhood Advisory Council (SNECAC)

http://snecac.com/resources-and-links SNECAC has a list of resources and links on their website including early childhood care and education, K-12 education, service directories, and community and family development services.

  • National Lead Information Center

(800) 424-5323 www.epa.gov/lead

  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

(800) 638-2772 www.cpsc.gov

  • Children’s Environmental Health Network 

(202) 543-1147 www.cehn.org