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Childhood Lead Poisoning Facts

What is lead?

  • Lead is a naturally occurring element found in the earth that has been used in many products such as paint, gasoline, ceramics and jewelry.
  • In the human body lead is a poison.

What is lead poisoning?

  • Lead poisoning is a serious public health problem.
  • Lead poisoning is a significant environmental health concern for children across the U.S., and a major concern for children in Milwaukee.
  • Lead poisoning is preventable.

Who can get lead poisoning?

  • Children are most harmed by lead poisoning. Children between the ages of six months and six years of age are at the highest risk due to normal hand-to-mouth behavior, increasing mobility and rapid brain development.
  • Adults can also be lead poisoned. Chronic exposure to lead can result in negative consequences to health.

What are the impacts of lead poisoning?

  • Decreased intelligence/ability to learn.
  • Increased behavior problems.
  • Increased childhood health problems, such as speech and language delays, hearing problems, kidney damage, seizure, and in rare cases, death.
  • Impaired school performance.
  • Increased juvenile delinquency.
  • Reduced health and economic status of the future adult population.

What is the most common source of lead exposure in Milwaukee?

  • The primary source of lead exposure in Milwaukee is lead-based paint and leaded household dust, especially around windows.

Are there other sources of lead exposure?

  • Although the primary source of lead exposure is lead-based paint, there are other sources including: soil, water, imported jewelry and toys, antiques, imported dishes, and traditional ("folk") remedies. Lead exposure may also occur with jobs and hobbies where lead is involved. 

How many children in Milwaukee are affected by lead poisoning?

  • In 2010, 3.4% of the children tested in Milwaukee had lead levels equal to or above 10 µg/dL. This is 2.4 times the national average of 1.4%.
  • In 2010, 735 children were newly identified with lead levels equal to or greater than 10 µg/dL. 

How do I know if my child has lead poisoning?

  • There are often no signs or symptoms. Children can have lead poisoning and not look or act sick. Some children may feel sick to their stomachs, tired or irritable.
  • Blood lead testing is the only way to tell if your child is being affected by lead. The Milwaukee Health Department recommends that all children have a blood lead test three times before age three, at around 12, 18, and 24 months of age.

How do I pay for my child's lead tests?

  • Lead tests are paid for by most insurance plans and HMOs.
  • Testing for Medicaid-eligible children is required and paid for by Medicaid.

How can I permanently prevent childhood lead poisoning?

  • The only way to permanently eliminate lead hazards in a home is to permanently cover, remove or replace painted surfaces in a lead safe manner.
  • Repair and/or maintain painted surfaces (primarily windos, exteriors, and trim) in a lead safe manner to reduce lead exposure.
  • Cover bare soil in the yard and play areas with mulch or grass.

Are there temporary measures to reduce lead hazards and protect my child?

  • Remove paint chips and lead dust from windows with a HEPA vacuum. The City of Milwaukee Health Department has HEPA vacuums that are loaned without cost for use on properties in the City of Milwaukee.
  • Clean your floors and window sills and troughs with soapy water. Then rinse areas well and throw out dishrags and/or towels.
  • Use rugs at entry ways to clean dust and dirt from shoes. Periodically clean rugs and mats.
  • Cover painted surfaces that are chipped or have holes with contact paper, duct tape, or cardboard.
  • Hose down porches and decks.

What else can I do to keep my children safe from lead?

  • Feed your children foods high in calcium and iron, and low in fat.
  • Wash your children's hands often, especially before meals, snacks, and bedtime.
  • Use cold water and run for one minute every morning before you use it.

Updated 01-25-12