Lead Poisoning Prevention - Frequently Asked Questions - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Lead Poisoning Prevention
Lead: Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if my child has too much lead in his/her body?

People with high levels of lead in their bodies often do not seem sick. The symptoms that occur are very general and can happen for many reasons. Your local public health clinic or family doctor can do a simple blood test to find out if there is too much lead in the blood. This blood test involves taking a sample of blood from your child's finger or a vein in the arm. If the blood sample shows a problem with lead, more testing will be done.

Adults who think they may have been exposed to too much lead should also be tested.

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Which children need to be tested?

A yearly blood lead test is advised for children up to six years of age who:

  • live, play, or spend time in older housing (built before 1978) with chipping or peeling paint;
  • live, play, or spend time in older housing (built before 1978) with recent or ongoing remodeling;
  • have brothers, sisters, housemates or playmates with moderate or high blood lead levels;
  • live near a roadway with heavy traffic or a business where lead is used;
  • live with an adult who works in a job or has a hobby where lead is used.

Call your local health department or the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-4620 or 800-657-3908 to find out how you can have your child tested.

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What can I do to prevent lead poisoning?

Don't forget that lead may be a health hazard on the job. People working as painters, remodelers, auto repair workers, plumbers and battery factory workers can be exposed to lead on the job. Follow these safety rules to help protect you and your family.

  • Wear protective equipment and clothing on the job.
  • Change your clothes, take a shower and wash your hair before leaving the job.
  • Do not shake out these work clothes and do not wash them with other clothing. Clean washable work clothing separately form other clothes. Run the rinse cycle once before using the washer again.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke in an area where lead is used.

The best way to prevent lead poisoning among young children is to remove the source of lead. If you cannot remove peeling or chipping lead-based paint right away, block the area with a heavy chair so a child cannot get to it. You can also shut the door to a room, or move a crib or bed away from the wall. Remove the lead source promptly and safely. Call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-4620 or 800-657-3908 to learn more about safely removing sources of lead from an older home.

Protect your child from lead dust by wet washing the floors and wiping down your window sills, woodwork, chairs and tables often. Be sure to wash your child's hands, face and toys often with soap and water.

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Is my child's diet important?

Yes, a well-balanced diet is very important. Meals high in fats and oils are not good because they can help the body absorb lead. Eating foods that are rich in calcium and iron allow the body to absorb less lead. Eating foods with Vitamin C helps increase the amount of iron in the blood. Eating a variety of foods as part of a well-balanced diet helps a child grow up healthy and strong.

Healthy Foods to Fight Lead

Foods High in

Foods High in

Foods High in
Vitamin C

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Tofu
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Evaporated milk
  • Foods made with milk; including soups, custards, and puddings
  • Powdered milk
  • Lean red meat
  • Low-fat pork
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Raisins
  • Iron fortified cereal
  • Iron fortified infant formula
  • Breast milk
  • Oranges/Orange juice
  • Grapefruit/Grapefruit juice
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Potatoes cooked in the skin
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Strawberries

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Is there a way to reduce high blood levels of lead?

There is a treatment used to bring down high blood lead levels. Certain medicines combine with lead so the body can get rid of it more easily. The doctor will decide if a child needs this treatment. The best way to lower an elevated blood lead level is to prevent continued exposure to lead.

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How do you get lead poisoning?

Lead enters your body each time you inhale leaded fumes or dust, or swallow something that contains lead.

Your body does not have a use for lead. If you are exposed to a small amount of lead, your body will discharge it. If you are exposed to small amounts of lead over time or one large dose, your body may take in more lead than it can clean out.

Lead poisoning is a disease that occurs when too much lead builds up in the body.

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How does lead harm the body?

Too much lead can harm both children and adults. No one knows exactly how much lead it takes to cause health problems. Many times there are no symptoms until the health problems are very serious. Usually people who are lead poisoned do not seem to be sick.

Lead poisoning can cause learning, behavior and health problems in young children. Lead can cause high blood pressure and kidney damage in adults.

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Who is at risk?

Children under six years of age spending time in homes built before 1978, with chipping or peeling paint, are at greatest risk. Adults who work with lead on the job are also at high risk. This can include painters, remodelers, or workers in smelters or battery plants.

People remodeling their homes may also be at risk, if the paint in the home has lead in it. Family members can also become lead poisoned while the lead-based paint is being removed from the home, if the work is not done properly. Lead was allowed in household paint until 1978. The older your home is, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint. Paints containing up to 50 percent lead were used on the inside and outside of homes through the 1950s.

A pregnant or nursing woman's exposure to lead can harm her unborn baby or child.

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Why do children run a greater risk?

It is very normal for young children to put things in their mouths. Eating lead paint chips and lead dust is a very common cause of lead poisoning in young children.

Young children are also very active and like to explore. A child can crawl on the floor and reach windows, walls, railings or doors. All of these areas can be sources of peeling and chipping lead-based paint or leaded dust. Even toys and food that have fallen on the floor can be coated with lead dust.

Children also run a greater risk because their bodies absorb the lead more easily. A child's quickly growing body can be harmed by even small amounts of lead.

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What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

  • No desire to eat food
  • Loss of recently acquired skills
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Lack of energy
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Trouble sleeping

Symptoms of lead poisoning do not appear until a child is very ill. Children up to six years of age should have a blood lead test done each year. Your health care provider can perform this test.

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What happens once blood is drawn and results are sent to the MDH?

(The following responses to an elevated blood lead report are currently presented in Minnesota Statute (MS 144.9504) and the MDH Childhood Blood Lead Case Management Guidelines for Minnesota (updated in 2006):

    • If levels are less than 5 µg/dL, information is entered into the surveillance database, and no additional follow-up is recommended (although partners offer education and followup).
    • If levels of children are 5 µg/dL or greater, follow-up or confirmation testing and educational intervention is called for. This includes giving the children’s parents or guardian a letter, bringing in the child for follow-up or confirmation testing, and providing information on how to reduce and/or avoid exposure to lead in the environment.
    • If levels in a pregnant woman are 10 µg/dL or greater or are 15 µg/dL or greater for children, environmental follow-up is required. This includes a housing risk assessment and may also include an education visit from a public health nurse, enforcement orders, lead hazard reduction or remediation, and clearance testing.
    • Levels of 60 µg/dL or greater indicate a medical emergency, and immediate action is taken.

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    Where can I find more data about blood lead poisoning?

    Find data about public health and risk factors that impact public health at Minnesota Public Health Data Access, a web-based data access portal. The portal includes data on childhood lead poisoning and other issues that affect public health in Minnesota.

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    Important lead information for hunters

    The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Lead in Venison - Information for Hunters page documents a study of bullet fragmentation in deer meat. Find out how to protect yourself and your family.

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Updated Friday, October 12, 2018 at 11:30AM