Preventing Lead Poisoning

Lead is a metal that can harm children and adults when it gets into their bodies. Lead can be found in dust, air, water, soil, and in some products used in and around our homes.

Children under six years old are more likely to get lead poisoning than any other age group.

Lead can harm a young child's growth, behavior, and ability to learn.

Most often, children get lead poisoning from breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors and windowsills, hands and toys. Lead can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.

The CDC estimates that there are half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with elevated blood lead levels and at least 4 million households with children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead.

Lead poisoning is preventable.

The Elkhart County Health Department:

  • Provides free lead screening tests.
  • Provides case management of elevated blood lead levels.

Lead Screening

Lead screening tests are done with a finger stick to obtain a small blood sample.

Parents are encouraged to have their children screened for lead if any of the following conditions apply:

  • Your child lives in or visits a house or childcare center built before 1978.
  • Anyone in your household works in an industry or has a hobby that uses lead (battery factory, steel smelter, stained glass).
  • Your child has a sibling or playmate that has or did have lead poisoning.

Lead testing can be scheduled for children ages 6 months through 6 years.

Lead Case Management

A Registered Nurse will provide case management for children with elevated blood lead levels:

  • Coordination of blood lead tests.
  • Education regarding lead poisoning and methods to treat.
  • Appropriate referrals

Frequently Asked Questions about Lead Poisioning in Children

There is no cost for the lead screen

Many times the lead poisoned child does not have any symptoms. The only way to find out if a child has lead poisoning is to do the lead test.

Here is a list of suggestions that will help protect your child:

  • Wash your child's hands and face frequently, especially before eating.
  • Wash toys, countertops and windowsills and wet mop floors weekly with an all-purpose detergent.
  • Don't consume imported foods that come in cans with wide seams.
  • Avoid giving children imported candy or snacks containing chili or tamarind.
  • Feed your child regular meals with a diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C and low in fat.
  • Clean up paint chips and peeling paint safely.
  • Keep furniture away from damaged paint. Pay special attention to cribs, beds, highchairs, and playpens.
  • Allow cold water to run for a few minutes in the morning before using it for drinking, cooking, or mixing formula in case there may be lead in your household pipes. Do not use hot water from the tap for drinking or in food preparation.
  • Avoid using handmade, older, or imported dishes for food or drink preparation, storage, or serving, unless you are sure they do not contain lead.
  • Avoid using imported home remedies or cosmetics that contain lead.
  • Take off your shoes before entering the house. (Wipe shoes off - this will help prevent lead dust and soil from getting into your house.)
  • Don't let your child play in areas where bare soil is exposed.
  • Vacuum carpets frequently to reduce household dust, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Change out of work clothes before entering the house or being in contact with family members. If you work with lead at your job or hobby, take a shower at your workplace, if possible. Otherwise, shower and remove clothing immediately upon returning home. Handle clothing carefully and wash separately.
  • When moving into a home, ask the owner about any problems with lead and know the age of the building.
  • Before remodeling, ask a trained professional to test the paint in your house. If lead is in the paint, learn how to handle it safely.

Once lead is in the body, the damage it causes cannot be reversed. Chelation therapy, for children with very high lead levels, will only lower those levels. It will not repair the damage already done. Chelation therapy is only used when blood lead levels are very high.

The best way to prevent lead poisoning is to have your child tested and keep him or her from coming into contact with lead-contaminated objects.