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Lead Poisoning

Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the earth's crust. Much of the lead in our environment comes from burning fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing. Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects, particularly in young children. Because of health concerns, lead from gasoline, paints, and other products has been dramatically reduced in recent years.Lead Paint

Health Risks of Lead Exposure

Exposure to excessive levels of lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. The brain and central nervous system are most sensitive, particularly in children. Lead is also particularly damaging to the kidneys, reproductive system, and the immune system. The effects are the same whether it is breathed or swallowed.

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Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

A lead-poisoned child may seem healthy or exhibit any of the following signs:

  • Behavior or learning problems
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Headaches
  • Hearing problems
  • Weight loss
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability

In adults, symptoms can include decreased reaction time, weakness in fingers, wrists or ankles, and possible memory loss.

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Sources of Lead Poisoning

People can be exposed to lead in many ways, including:

  • Eating food or drinking water that contains lead.
  • Spending time in areas where lead-based paints are deteriorating. Children are most often poisoned by swallowing lead-based paint chips or lead dust. Lead dust from deteriorating lead-based paint settles to the floor and gets on children's hands and toys. Lead enters their bodies when they put their hands or toys in their mouth.  
  • Working in a job where lead is used.
  • Using folk remedies that contain lead.
  • Engaging in hobbies that use lead-based products (stained glass, ceramics, etc.).
  • Fact Sheet: Toys and Childhood Lead Exposure

Note: Metallic low-cost jewelry, including pieces intended specifically for children, has traditionally been made using lead because it gives weight to the pieces and is easily manufactured. Considering that the nature of the products often causes them to be in constant contact with a child's skin, and that a child can easily transfer lead to his or her mouth, the risk of lead exposures from these pieces may represent a significant public health issue. Keep this in mind when purchasing jewelry, especially jewelry that will be given to a child.

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Lead Testing in Children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children ages 1 and 2 be screened for lead poisoning. Children who are 3 to 6 years old should be tested for lead if they have not been tested for lead before, and if they:

  • live or spend time in pre-1978 housing
  • have a sibling or playmate who has had lead poisoning

If you have questions or concerns about your child's exposure to lead, please contact your pediatrician for a lead blood level test.

Washtenaw County Public Health now offers free blood lead testing for children up to 6 years old with Medicaid or who are uninsured. Please call 734-544-6700 to schedule an appointment.

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Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips

To help prevent lead poisoning, keep the following in mind:

  • Do not allow children to chew or mouth painted surfaces that may have been painted with lead-based paint (homes built before 1978).
  • Keep floors, window sills, and other surfaces dust and dirt free.
  • Wash children's hands and faces often to remove lead dusts and soil.
  • Always use cold tap water for drinking and cooking, and run water for 30 seconds before using it.
  • Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling or renovating.
  • Fact Sheet: Testing for Lead in Children's Items
Note: Recent research has shown that artificial Christmas trees and strings of electric lights may contain lead. Young children are at greatest risk because they are most likely to touch branches with their hands or mouths, or to play under the tree where contaminated dust may fall. Although lead exposure may be limited in these situations, all sources of lead should be avoided, especially by children. To be safe, minimize handling of Christmas lights and artificial trees. Don't eat while you are putting them up or taking them down, and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards. Also, keep small children away from these products. Source: Environmental Quality Institute 


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Washtenaw County Lead Poisoning Prevention Services

  • Child Blood Lead Testing: Washtenaw County Public Health now offers free blood lead testing for children up to 6 years old with Medicaid or who are uninsured. Please call 734-544-6700 to schedule an appointment.
  • Lead Paint Chip Sampling:  Our office can no longer accept paint chip samples for lead testing. Click here for a list of certified laboratories who will test paint chips and other items.
  • Drinking Water Testing:  We offer testing services for lead in drinking water. A lead test for drinking water costs $17 per sample. Please call Washtenaw County Environmental Health at (734) 222-3800 before sampling your water. You will need to obtain a special sampling bottle, and will need to follow specific procedures for each item sampled.
  • Soil Testing: We can send soil samples to the State of Michigan laboratory to be tested for lead. The cost is $17.25 per sample. Please call Washtenaw County Environmental Health at (734) 222-3800 for assistance. 
  • Lead Education & Investigation:  We provide lead education to the public, and investigate referrals of lead poisoning. Investigations involve testing paint and other items in the home to determine if any of those items contain lead. If lead is present, recommendations for abatement are provided and children are referred for medical treatment if necessary.  
  • HEPA Vacuum:  We have a HEPA vacuum available for public use. Contact call Washtenaw County Environmental Health at (734) 222-3800 for information regarding use of the HEPA vacuum. 

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