Lead is a heavy soft metal found in pipes, cable sheaths, batteries, solder, and shields. Lead and its compounds are toxic and can present a severe hazard to those who are overexposed to them. Until 1978, lead was added to paint to promote adhesion, corrosion control, drying, and covering and was used extensively on exteriors and interiors. The only way to determine which building components are coated with lead paint is through an inspection for lead-based paint. Varnishes and glazes sometimes contained lead. People absorb lead from a variety of sources every day.
Lead exposure could cause a variety of health effects depending on the amount of lead and the length of time and age of the person exposed to lead. Young children are more susceptible to toxic effects of lead, which can cause behavioral issues, learning disability, abdominal pain and growth retardation.
Lead poisoning occurs when lead enters the bloodstream and builds up to toxic levels. Many different factors such as the source of exposure, length of exposure, and underlying susceptibility (e.g., child’s age, nutritional status, and genetics) affect how the body handles foreign substances.
No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Here are important facts to know about lead exposure and its potentially harmful effects.
- Lead is a toxic element, especially in young children. When absorbed into the body, it can result in damage to the brain and nervous system, learning and behavior problems, slow growth and development, and hearing and speech problems.
- Lead poisoning is preventable! The key is preventing children from coming into contact with lead.
- Lead can be found inside and outside the home. The most common source of exposure is from lead-based paint, which was used in many homes built before 1978. Children can be exposed by swallowing or breathing in lead dust created by old paint that has cracked and chipped, eating paint chips, or chewing on surfaces coated with lead-based paint, such as window sills.
- There are simple steps that can be taken to protect family members from lead-based paint hazards in the home, such as regularly cleaning the home, washing children’s hands and toys often, and wiping shoes before entering the home.
- If you live in a house built before 1978, a certified inspector or risk assessor can be hired to check your home for lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards.
- Lead can also be found in drinking water. The most common sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets, and fixtures.
- Other examples of possible sources of lead include some metal toys or toys painted with lead-based paint, furniture painted with lead-based paint, some metal-containing jewelry, some imported items (i.e., health remedies, foods and candies, cosmetics, powders or make-up used in religious ceremonies), and lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.
Children can become exposed to lead by:
- Putting their hands or other lead-contaminated objects such as kids jewelry, charms and amulets in their mouths.
- Ingesting lead-contaminated dust.
- Eating paint chips found in homes from peeling or flaking lead-based paint.
- Drinking water that comes from lead pipes (corrosion of plumbing systems, for more information click here).
- Playing in lead-contaminated soil.
- Eating food prepared in contaminated containers such as ceramic glazed pottery, eating food made with lead-containing imported spices such a turmeric and lozeena (used as food coloring) or candies/candy wrappers.
- Using ceremonial make-up or powders that contain lead.
Some children are at greater risk for lead exposure than others, including those who are:
- From low-income families.
- Living with adults whose jobs or hobbies involve working with lead.
- Members of racial-ethnic minority groups.
- Recent immigrants.
- Living in older, poorly maintained rentals properties.
Adults may also unknowingly bring lead dust into their home from their jobs or hobbies.
During pregnancy, women may crave non-food items (pica) that may contain lead, such as soil, clay, or crushed pottery.
About 3.6 million American households have children under 6 years of age who live in homes with lead exposure hazards. According to the CDC, about 500,000 American children between the ages of 1 and 5 years have blood lead levels at or above the CDC blood lead reference value (the level at which CDC recommends public health actions begin)
Get the Facts
Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. Lead from paint, paint chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards particularly to children and pregnant women.
Adults and children can get lead into their bodies by:
- Breathing in lead dust (especially during activities such as renovations, repairs, or painting);
- Swallowing lead dust that settles in food, food preparation surfaces, floors, window sills, and other places;
- Eating paint chips or soil that contains lead.
- The most common sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets, and fixtures.
- Other sources of lead include some metal toys, wooden toys or furniture painted with lead-based paint, some metal-containing jewelry, and lead-glazed pottery or porcelain, some candies, spices or make-up.
- Lead may also be brought into the home on work clothes, shoes, and hair.
Get Your Home Tested
If your home was built before 1978, you can get it tested for lead-based paint by:
- A lead-based paint inspection that tells you if your home has lead-based paint and where it is located.
- A lead risk assessment that tells you if your home currently has any lead hazards from paint, dust, or soil, and where they are located.
A combination inspection and risk assessment that tells you if your home has any lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards and where they are located. Contact your local health department or water company to find out about testing your water.
Get Your Child Tested
Act early to get your child tested for lead.
Children’s blood lead levels tend to increase from 6 to 12 months of age and tend to peak at 18 to 24 months of age.
A simple blood test can detect lead. Consult your healthcare provider for advice on blood lead testing.
Blood lead tests are usually recommended for:
Children at ages 12 and 24 months who receive Medicaid;
Children at ages 12 and 24 months living in high risk areas or high risk populations;
Children or other family members who have been exposed to high levels of lead;
Children who should be tested under your state or local health screening plan.
Ask your healthcare provider to explain the blood lead test results.
Children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than are adults. Infants can be exposed to lead in the womb if their mothers have lead in their bodies. Macomb County Health Department recommends all children under age of 6 to be tested. The most reliable test for elevated blood lead level is blood drawing.
Adults are usually exposed to lead from occupational sources (e.g., battery construction, paint removal) or at home (e.g., paint removal, home renovations) or through hobbies (making fishing sinkers and lead bullets).
Lead in your Home in Macomb County
- If your home was built before 1978 there is a good chance you have leaded paint in some areas of the house. The best method is to hire a lead inspector. The list of certified lead inspectors can be found here.
- Macomb County Health Department responds to cases of elevated blood lead level in children who reside in the County. Depending on the level, different actions will be taken to ensure a safe environment for the children. These steps include phone consultation, sending educational material (on proper cleaning, eating habits and proper diet) to the house, home visit by Nursing Department and performing full environmental inspection and investigation by Environmental Division, making recommendation and referring the case to the State of Michigan for lead abatement and replacement of house components that contain lead.
- For more information please contact the Macomb County Health Department at (586)469-5236
Help to Make Your Home and Family Lead-Safe
Do you live in an old home and have old windows or peeling paint? If so, the State of Michigan’s Lead Safe Home Program offers lead testing and lead hazard control services to qualifying families through grants.
You may qualify if you:
- Have a child under 6 or a pregnant female living in the home
- Are a low-to-moderate income family
- Live in a home built before 1978
- Own or rent the home
You can access the Lead Safe Home Program application here.
Contact the State of Michigan’s Lead Safe Home Program with questions at (866) 691-5323 (toll-free).
If you have any questions, call us at 586-469-5236, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. or E-mail us now.
Michigan Department of Community Health
Environmental Protection Agency
CPSC for list of Recalled Items: