Lead Poisoning

Lead is a highly toxic metal that interferes with the body in many different ways and can be toxic to various organs. It only takes a small amount of lead to enter the body and cause permanent damage to the nervous system, which affects behavior and learning development in children. Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable.

Lead-based paint was used prior to 1978 on the inside and outside of homes, primarily because of its durability. Lead in paint used for child-occupied buildings (e.g. homes, schools, childcare facilities, etc.) was banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1978, however lead-based paint in older homes is still the most common source of lead.

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What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning means having lead in the body in an amount that can cause serious health and development problems. The level of concern for children is 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dL). This is the level at which a child is considered to be lead poisoned although recent studies show that even low levels of lead in the blood can be harmful.

For more information on lead poisoning hazard reduction and making a healthy home, please contact the Lead Poisoning Prevention and Healthy Homes Unit at 708-633-8054.

How can my child get lead poisoning?

  • The most common sources of lead poisoning in children are caused by lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings. Most lead poisonings in children result from children eating paint chips or through breathing lead dust. They can also get dust and paint chips on their hands and then put their hands in their mouths.
  • Lead in the blood can cross the placenta and affect an unborn child. Even lead stored in bones can be mobilized and expose the woman and fetus. Lead poisoning of the fetus can cause low birth weight, stillbirth or miscarriage. To protect your baby, get enough calcium, and eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Lead can also be found in other sources
    • Soil. Lead particles that settle on the soil from gasoline or paint.
    • Water. Lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures and copper pipes lined with lead can release lead particles into tap water.
    • Household dust. Household dust can contain lead from paint chips or soil brought in from outside.
    • Cosmetics Some cosmetics such as Kohl, which is often used in eyeliner, can contain high levels of lead.
    • Occupation Parents who work in construction or renovation jobs can expose their children to lead dust. Parents can bring lead dust home on work clothes, shoes and the family car.
    • Hobbies Some hobbies that may involve activities, such as, lead soldering, may expose children to lead.

Are there things I can do to protect my child from exposure to lead hazards?

  • If you rent a home that was built before 1978 and/or suspect your home has lead-based paint, inform your landlord or property management company of any peeling or chipping paint
  • Keep children’s play area clean and dust-free
  • Make sure your child washes his/her hands before eating
  • Keep children away from peeling paint and/or avoid putting paint chips in their mouth
  • Make sure your child eat nutritious foods high in iron and calcium

What are the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning?

Most children do not show signs and symptoms of lead poisoning. The only way to know for sure if your child is lead poisoned is to have a blood test. The child may appear healthy and normal, or may have the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sluggishness and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Anemia

Should I get my child tested?

Children 6 MONTHS TO 6 YEARS of age should be tested for lead, especially if you live in a home that was built before 1978. Ideally, young children will be tested for lead 3 times before their 3rd birthday.

What services does the Cook County Department of Public Health provide to families of children who are lead poisoned?

Children with blood test results of 10µg/dL and higher must receive an in-home inspection to determine if there is lead-based paint present. In-home lead inspections are also conducted at the request of a child’s physician. Children with blood test results of 20µg/dL or higher will also receive a home visit by a public health nurse.

Through partnerships with the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, Inc. (CEDA), City of Chicago Department of Public health (CDPH), Evanston Health Department and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the Cook County Department of Public Health provides funding to qualified landlords to correct lead-based paint hazards. Funds are also available to help local governments and not-for-profit organizations in Cook County to expand programs to control lead-based paint hazards in eligible housing.

For more information on lead poisoning hazard reduction and making a healthy home, please contact the Lead Poisoning Prevention and Healthy Homes Unit at 708-633-8054.