What Is Lead Poisoning?

Boy playing with carLead is a highly toxic substance that can produce adverse effects on nearly all organ systems in the body. There are many ways in which humans are exposed to lead: through deteriorating paint, household dust, bare soil, drinking water, air, food, hair dyes and other cosmetics (National Safety Council). Lead-based paint, which was banned from residential use in 1978, is the main source of lead poisoning in Iowa.

Both children and adults can become lead poisoned but childhood lead poisoning is more common. Childhood lead poisoning has significant effects on the health of children and on community health. It is especially harmful to the developing brains and nervous systems of children under the age of six years.

Who is at Risk?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. Over 4 million of these dwellings are home to one or more young children (CDC 2012).

Most of Iowa's pre-1950 homes contain lead-based paint. Young children who live in pre-1950 homes become lead poisoned when they put paint chips or exterior soil in their mouths or when they get house dust and soil on their hands and put their hands in their mouths. In addition, adults who remodel or repaint these homes may be lead-poisoned if they disturb the lead-based paint.

Did You Know?

At blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), children's intelligence, hearing, and growth are affected. Statewide, the prevalence of lead poisoning (children with confirmed elevated blood lead levels above 10 µg/dL) among children under the age of six years is between 1 and 2 percent.

Prevention Tips

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. According to the CDC, the following tips can help prevent exposure to lead:

  • Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
  • Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • Pregnant women and children should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation.
  • Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources.
  • Regularly wash children’s hands and toys.
  • Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components.
  • Prevent children from playing in bare soil; if possible, provide them with sandboxes.

Visit the CDC’s website for further instructions on preventing exposure to lead.

For more information about the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, please call 1-800-972-2026