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Health Department
Health and Community Services
43525 Elizabeth Road, Mount Clemens, MI 48043
(586) 469-5235

Health Impacts



Lead is a metal that can be found naturally in the earth. While there are some beneficial uses in products, it can cause health problems when swallowed and inhaled.

Most people who have lead in their blood do not look or act sick. However, there is no safe level of lead in the blood - ANY amount can be harmful to human health. As lead exposure increases, the range and seriousness of health effects increases.

Who is at risk for lead exposure?

People who live in homes built before 1978, particularly children. Children are most at risk because they:

  • Eat and drink more based on their body size when compared to adults
  • Breathe at faster rates when compared to adults
  • Absorb 4-5 times more of the lead they swallow than adults
  • May be missing key nutrients in their body, such as calcium and iron – so their body mistakenly keeps lead in place of healthy nutrients
  • Often put their hands in their mouths
  • Sometimes chew on toys and other household objects and furniture that may contain lead

Others at risk for lead exposure include:

  • Fetuses and nursing babies
  • People who have jobs working with lead
  • People with hobbies that use lead
  • People with pica. Pica is an eating disorder that involves eating items (such as paint chips) that are not typically thought of as food, and does not contain significant nutritional value.
  • People who live in communities that have Action Level Exceedances according to the State’s Lead and Copper Rule

What health problems can lead cause in an adult?

Almost everyone has been exposed to lead at some time in their life. However, it’s not common for an adult to experience health problems from lead exposures. An adult body can remove more lead than a child’s body. However, adults who have been exposed to lead over time may experience some health problems, such as:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Decreased cognitive function

Adults who are exposed to higher amounts of lead, such as in the workplace over a period of time, could experience other health problems. These might include:

  • Anemia
  • Poor sperm and semen quality
  • Delayed conception
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Severe stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation
  • Muscle weakness or soreness

Some of the effects of lead poisoning may never go away.

What health problems can lead cause in a child?

Lower levels of lead in children can result in:

  • Lower IQ scores
  • Decreased academic achievement
  • Increased problems with behavior and attention related disorders
  • Decreased hearing
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Changes in immune system function

Along with the health effects listed above, higher levels of lead in children can also result in:

  • Slow growth and development
  • Damaged hearing and speech
  • Attention and learning issues
  • Anemia
  • Severe stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Muscle weakness or soreness
  • Severe damage to the brain, nervous system, and kidneys  

Children exposed to too much lead may not look or act sick, but may have problems with growth and learning. Talk with your doctor to see if you or your child should be tested for lead. Too much lead can cause problems with:

  • Learning
  • Behavior
  • Speech
  • Hearing
  • Growth rates
  • Development of the nervous system

Most children get lead poisoning from paint in homes built before 1978. When old paint cracks and peels, it makes dangerous dust. The dust is so small you cannot see it. Most children get lead poisoning when they breathe or swallow the dust on their hands and toys.