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Lead Poisoning

Facts About Lead Poisoning


Updated January 23, 2014

Lead is a heavy metal that was used for centuries in all manner of household products and building materials. Until as late as the 1970's, lead was a component in many items commonly found in the home and garage. The biggest sources of lead in the general public included lead pipes, leaded gasoline, and house paint. Contamination was rampant until lead was banned from these products.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS), long-term effects to young children from even small exposures to lead can lead to nervous system disorders, lowered IQ’s, impaired memory and reaction times, and shortened attention spans. Lead was completely banned in construction materials by 1977.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

The problem with lead poisoning is that all of the symptoms can be caused by other conditions. While that's true for many things, lead poisoning is more of a chronic problem (compared to, say, food poisoning) unless there is a drastic amount of lead involved. NIEHS suggests testing for lead poisoning if some or all of the following symptoms have not gone away and no other cause can be found:
  • headaches
  • muscle and joint weakness or pain
  • excessive tiredness or lethargy
  • behavioral problems or irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • loss of appetite
  • metallic taste in the mouth
  • abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting
  • constipation

At Risk

Kids under six years old are at most risk for lead poisoning. Kids living under the poverty line are at greater risk simply because they are more likely to be living in older housing.

Others at risk for lead poisoning include hobbyists working with stained glass windows and those who work in the manufacturing or recycling of car batteries.


Treatments of Lead Poisoning

The basic treatment for lead poisoning is to eliminate exposure. If you suspect exposure to lead, talk to your physician or public health department about testing.

To avoid exposure to lead, the CDC recommends:

  • Frequently wash hands, childrens hands, pacifiers, and damp wash surfaces to clean lead from old paint and other products.


  • Use only cold water from the tap. Hot water may contain more lead.


  • Avoid using home remedies (such as azarcon, greta, pay-loo-ah) and cosmetics (such as kohl, alkohl) that contain lead.


  • Shower and change clothes after working on a remodel of buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies involve working with lead-based products.


References: "General Lead Information: Questions and Answers." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC. 03 Aug 2007

"Lead Poisoning: Is Lead Hiding Here?." NIEHS Kids Pages. NIH/DHHS/NIEHS. 03 Aug 2007

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