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About Lead Exposure: What You Should Know

About Lead Exposure: What You Should Know

Ensuring children are shielded from lead exposure is crucial for their lifelong well-being. No level of lead in children's blood is considered safe. Even minimal levels of lead have been proven to impair intelligence, attention span, and academic performance in children. Although the consequences of lead poisoning can be lasting, early detection empowers parents to take proactive measures to halt further exposure and mitigate harm to their child's health. 


Review the FAQ below to learn more about lead exposure, its impacts, and prevention methods. 

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  What is lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. It was mined in Wisconsin and added as a stabilizing agent to products like:

  • Gasoline
  • Paint
  • Plastics
  • Varnish
  What is lead poisoning?

When a person is exposed to lead, it can build up in the body, which is commonly referred to as lead poisoning or having an elevated blood lead level (EBLL). There is no safe level of lead in the body.

  How can I be exposed to lead?

The primary source of elevated blood lead levels in the city of Milwaukee comes from the lead-based paint and household dust present in older homes. Other exposures can include:

  • Soil
  • Drinking water
  • Imported jewelry and toys
  • Antiques
  • Imported dishes and traditional (“folk”) remedies
  • Jobs or hobbies where the lead is involved
  Who is most at risk for lead poisoning?

Lead can hurt anyone but, children between the ages of 0-6 are especially vulnerable because their growing bodies absorb lead faster than adults. Lead can damage the brain and other systems leading to:

  • Developmental delays
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Reduced IQ and attention span
  • A range of other health and behavioral effects

The damage of lead poisoning can last a lifetime and is also a concern for pregnant women. During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother’s bones along with calcium and passes from the mother to the fetus or the breastfeeding infant.

Click here for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Childhood Lead Poisoning Data Explorer.

View Data Explorer

  How do I know if my child has been exposed to lead?

Children with elevated blood lead levels don’t always look or act sick. The only way to know if your child has been exposed to lead is to get a blood test from their doctor. Consult with your doctor about lead testing, if you are pregnant or have a child under age 6. For more information review the CDC's recommendations on when to get your child tested.

View CDC Recommendations

Please note: Your healthcare provider or local clinic is the best place to get tested. Lead testing is paid for by most insurance plans. Testing for Medicaid-eligible children is required and paid for by Medicaid.

  What are the impacts of lead exposure?

Lead exposure, even at low levels, has been shown to harm the developing brains and bodies of infants and young children. This includes a decreased intelligence or ability to learn, increased behavior problems, impaired school performance, increased juvenile delinquency, and increased childhood health problems such as speech and language delays, hearing problems, kidney damage, seizures, and in rare cases, death.

  How do I prevent childhood lead exposure?

The best way to prevent childhood lead poisoning is to keep your children from contact with lead. Knowing the lead sources will also help your family keep your children away from possible lead hazards in their environments.


What you can do in your home:

If you live in a home built pre-1978, you can take the steps below to prevent lead exposure through paint, soil, water, and certain products:


You can use duct tape to cover windows, walls, and doors where there may be chipping, peeling, or flaking lead-based paint


Keep children from playing in bare soil; if possible, cover the soil with grass or mulch. Wash dirt, dust off hands, body, toys, and bottles, and wash clothes with soap and water. Always wash fruits and vegetables with cold water for 1 minute or until dirt and dust are removed.


Filter your water and replace filters regularly. Use a water filter that is certified to remove lead. Click here to see examples of lead-removing water filters for your home. If you don’t have a filter, always run your cold tap water for 3 minutes between uses.


Refrain from using products made outside the United States, including medicinal remedies, bullets/ammunition, toys, cosmetics, cookware, jewelry, candies, and spices. Click here to view DHS's other sources of lead webpage and find ways to protect your family.

Additional Information on Lead Exposure

Additional information can be found:

City of Milwaukee Health Department

Contact Us

Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building

841 North Broadway, 1st Floor
Milwaukee, WI 53202


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