LBP Questions About Lead

Additional questions may be addressed to Justin Otto at 701-328-5166 or

What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a nonessential metal. Lead in the body is unnatural. Lead poisoning results from the consumption of lead in some form. Children, with normal hand-to-mouth activity, ingest substantial amounts of lead from household dust when deteriorating lead-containing paint is present. It takes little lead to cause lead poisoning. A child can become severely lead poisoned by eating one milligram of lead-paint dust (60-80 ug/dl), which is equivalent to about three granules of sugar each day during childhood. To achieve blood-lead levels of 36 ug/dl, a child would have to eat just the equivalent of one granule of sugar a day. Lead-containing dust also may be inhaled by children through respiration.

Who gets lead poisoning?

Anyone who consumes lead may become poisoned. The highest incidence is in children between one and six years of age, but especially those between one and three. It is the best known environmental cause of illnesses in children. Children at the developmental stage of placing hands and objects in mouth are the most likely to consume lead if it is present in their environment.

What are contributing factors that might elevated blood lead levels?

  • Lead-based paint
  • Dust contaminated by lead-based paint
  • Soil contaminated by lead-based paint
  • Window sills painted with lead -based paint or lead containing putty
  • Siding with lead-based paint
  • Old linoleum
  • Soil contaminated by lead-based paint or leaded gasoline
  • Carpet contaminated by lead-based paint and/or lead containing soil
  • Lead-based varnish
  • Old furniture with lead-based paint
  • Solvents and chemical strippers containing lead
  • Fishing weights
  • Pesticides/fungicides
  • Shoes contaminated with lead
  • Work hobbies involving contact with lead
  • Some types of matches
  • Batteries
  • Smelting
  • Lead crystal
  • Soldering
  • Old Fiesta Ware dishes
  • Ammunition including some BB's
  • Some pots and pans
  • Pottery or ceramics
  • Pewter and ceramic dishes
  • Auto-body repairing
  • Stained glass modeling
  • Pewter toys
  • Items manufactured in foreign countries:
  • Some plumbing fixtures or lead pipes
  • Lead stabilized plastic mini-blinds
  • Water from lead fixtures or lead pipes
  • Canned foods in cans soldered with lead
  • Colors crayons stabilized with lead
  • Chalks and markers containing lead
  • Tops painted with lead-based paint
  • Materials printed with lead containing ink
  • Cosmetics containing lead
  • Coins contaminated with lead dust
  • Some folk medicines (e.g., Azaracon , Greta)

A history of pica, when present, is strongly suggestive. However, pica is not a prerequisite for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning results mostly from ingestion lead-laden dust.

What are symptoms of lead poisoning?

There is no precise direct correlation between blood level and clinical manifestations. Children with blood lead levels greater than 100 ug/dl may occasionally appear clinically well, and children with blood lead level 30-35 ug/dL may be symptomatic. The probability of severe symptoms increases with the increase in exposure to lead, and is greater the higher the blood lead level is.

If blood lead levels are low, there may be no obvious symptoms of lead poisoning, although even low levels of lead may alter physiology and impact child development. Studies have shown an increase of blood lead from 10 μg/dL to 20 μg/dL results in an average decrease in IQ of approximately 2 points. That is why it is important to screen young children for lead poisoning.

Symptoms in young children may develop insidiously and may abate spontaneously. The following symptoms may occur:

  • Gastrointestinal– anorexia, sporadic vomiting, intermittent abdominal pain (colic) or constipation.

  • Central Nervous System– behavior changes, hyperactivity, aggression impulsiveness, irritability, lack of interest in play, lethargy, development delays, reversal in verbalization, loss of motor skills, clumsiness, short attention span or leaning disabilities.

  • Hematologic– anemic, pallor

  • Cardiovascular– hypertension, bradycardia

  • Encephalopathy may occur as toxic damage to the brain progresses - sudden onset of persistent vomiting; sever ataxia (loss of coordination), altered state of consciousness, coma, seizures or massive cerebral edema in younger children. Encaphalopathy rarely occurs in blood lead levels under 100 μg/dL.

  • Nonspecific or vague symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, anorexia, headache and fever.

What complications can occur from lead poisoning?

Severe and often permanent mental, emotional and physical impairment can result from lead poisoning. In addition, neurological deficits such as learning disabilities, mental retardation, seizures and Encephalopathy may occur.

What is treatment for lead poisoning?

  • Family education
  • Removal of lead from the environment
  • Low-fat, high-iron diet (Especially important if child is anemic)
  • Chelation therapy (At the discretion of medical provider)

What can be done to prevent or control lead poisoning?

Reduce exposure of young children to lead:

  • Remove lead-based paint from older residences.
  • Children should not be present during renovation of older homes.
  • Explore other sources of lead exposure besides own home (i.e., child care, grandparents, etc.)
  • Keep children from areas where lead is known to be present.