Lead is a metal that was once used in different materials both inside and outside of our homes, including paint, plumbing materials, and gasoline. Because there is no safe level of lead exposure, it is important to reduce the chance of exposure as much as possible, especially for infants, young children, and pregnant women. Inside and outside of homes, there are primary sources of lead exposure to be aware of.
If your home was built before 1978, it most likely has lead paint inside or outside your home, most often this paint is underneath many layers of newer paint. Lead-based paint becomes a hazard when it begins to chip, peel, crack or chalk, or when home renovation projects disrupt the paint. When lead-based paint begins to chip, it often chips or peels in rectangles or squares like an alligator skin and rubs off with a chalky residue.
Most children are exposed to lead when lead-based paint cracks, chips, peels or chalks, especially around windows and doors. This creates dust or small paint chips that can get on a child’s hands or toys. It only takes a small amount of lead dust to elevate the amount of lead in a child’s blood.
What can you do?
- Wipe surfaces where paint is chipping (especially windows, doors and baseboards) with a disposable wet cloth. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Never sweep chipping paint and do not scrape or sand chipping or peeling paint surfaces. This only creates lead dust.
- Cover peeling paint or plaster temporarily with duct tape or contact paper. A more permanent fix is to safely remove and replace lead-painted surfaces by hiring a certified renovator or lead abatement contractor.
- Replace old windows and doors. Friction surfaces like windows and doors can create lead paint dust. Replacing these windows and doors using lead-safe home renovation steps or by working with a certified contractor can remove the hazard from your home.
- Wash your child’s hands and toys often so that lead dust or dirt is removed. Always wash hands before eating.
When lead is found in drinking water, it is usually because the water can dissolve pipes made of lead. While cities are required to treat their water to reduce the risk, when water sits in these pipes for a period of time, lead can get into the drinking water.
Milwaukee’s drinking water is treated to reduce the risk of lead in water and Milwaukee Water Works currently meets all federal guidelines for water quality. However, older homes may have a lead service line bringing water to them. To find out, you can look up your home’s address here. Water mains are not made of lead.
Inside your home, lead may also have been used in solder (which joins pipes together) or in old brass fixtures. A licensed plumber can help you determine if the plumbing or fixtures inside your home may be made of lead.
What can you do? If you have a lead service line or plumbing:
- Use a filter certified to remove lead from drinking water. This is especially important when preparing baby formula. The use of a filter certified to remove lead is also recommended if you have children under the age of 6, pregnant women, or breastfeeding women in the home. Home filtration systems can reduce or eliminate lead. Be sure to look for products certified by NSF/ANSI under Standard 53 for the removal of lead and follow all manufacturer’s instructions on installation and maintenance. Find recommendations about drinking water filters here, or or download the list here.
- Run your water. If your water has not been used for several hours, run the cold water tap for at least 3 minutes (until it is noticeably colder) before using tap water for drinking or cooking.
- Drink and cook with water from the cold water tap. Hot water may dissolve lead more quickly. Boiling water will not remove lead. Remove any faucet aerators about once a month, rinse them out, and put them back on the faucet.
- Replace your lead service line or interior plumbing.
For more drinking water safety information, visit our Drinking Water Safety page here.
The most common way for lead to get into soil is from lead paint on the outside of a house. If your home was built before 1978, it most likely has lead-based paint on its exterior. When old paint chips, peels or is scraped off, it falls onto the soil. The area where old paint has fallen is called the drip zone. Soil can also be contaminated along busy roadways from the time when gasoline contained lead, as well as areas where old factories that used lead once stood.
What can you do?
- Cover bare soil in your yard with wood chips or grass, and cover walkways with cement or gravel.
- Keep children’s play areas away from bare soil and plant gardens in raised beds that are away from painted buildings.
- Always take off your shoes when you go inside a home so that you don’t bring dirt into the house.
Additional Sources of Lead - Products, Folk Remedies, and Jobs and Hobbies
Lead can also be found in other sources in the home. High levels of lead have been found in products including:
- Imported food or candies
- Imported or antique toys
- Imported or antique jewelry
- Imported or antique furniture
- Imported medicines
- Lipstick and other cosmetics
- Plumbing products
- Pottery, porcelain, or lead crystal food or liquid containers or cooking ware
Lead can also be found in some traditional or folk remedies. Some folk remedies contain dangerous levels of lead and other chemicals. These remedies include:
- "Greta," "Azarcon," "Rueda," "Coral," "Alarcon," "Liga," and "Maria Luisa"
- "Nzu," "Poto," and "Calabash chalk"
- "Kohl," "Kahal," "Sormeh," "Surmah," and "Tozali"
Lead can also be brought into the home if you work with lead or lead-based paint or have a hobby that commonly uses leaded materials. Jobs where lead exposure or the use of leaded materials is common include:
- Construction including renovation and painting
- Restoration and refinishing of furniture and other objects
- Auto repair and painting
- Shooting ranges
Hobbies where lead exposure or the use of leaded materials is common include:
- Stained glass
- Model building using weights
What can you do?
- Use only lead-free products.
- Never place unsafe objects in your mouth and prevent children from placing unsafe objects in their mouths.
- Wash your hands and your child's hands before eating or drinking.
- Use only approved food and medicines.
- Use only food-safe cooking and serving ware to prepare and serve food.
- Prevent children from exposure to leaded materials or potentially unsafe products. All work and hobby materials should be kept separate from living areas and inaccessible to children. After potential exposure, you should shower and change clothes before entering your vehicle, living areas, or areas accessible to children. Work clothing or clothing exposed to lead should be removed and laundered separately from other clothes.
Additional Information on Sources of Lead
Additional information can be found: