Lead Prevention & Poisoning

Lead exposure in young children can cause reduced IQ and attention span, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, and a range of other health and behavioral effects. Most exposures occur in homes or daycares where lead-based paint has deteriorated because of deferred maintenance or where lead hazards have been created through painting or renovation done without using lead-safe work practices.

Prevention of lead poisoning can be accomplished by eliminating lead-based paint hazards before children are exposed. Wisconsin's goal is to eliminate this disease by working to make Wisconsin's housing lead-safe, and by improving the detection and treatment of lead poisoning in children.

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Lead is a common element found throughout the environment in many different sources. It poses a significant health risk if too much enters the body. The risk is especially high for pregnant women and young children.

In recent years, media attention has focused on the potential dangers to children from lead in and around the home. However, lead poisoning is the oldest recorded occupational disease. The hazards of lead and its effects were known and documented in the 4th Century.

There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. Lead poisoning can affect nearly every system in the body. Lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms and frequently goes unrecognized.

The long-term effects of lead in a child can be severe. They include learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity, impaired hearing and even brain damage. If caught early, these effects can be limited by reducing exposure to lead or by medical treatment. If you are pregnant, avoid exposing yourself to lead. Lead can pass through the body to the baby.


Many homes built before 1978 contain lead-based paint. The paint can flake, peel or create dust.

Food may be contaminated if it is:

  • Grown in soil that contains lead.
  • Stored in some types of ceramics, lead crystals or cans with lead seams.
  • Prepared by someone with lead dust on his or her hands.

Plumbing pipes, solder and fixtures made with lead can contaminate water.

Lead from lead-painted buildings, lead-based insecticides and past highway pollution can remain in soil for many years.

Other Sources
Certain jobs, hobbies, folk remedies, cosmetics, plastic blinds, antiques and other items can expose people to lead.


Premature Birth
Babies born before they are fully developed are at increased risk for illness and death.

Small Size and Low Birth Weight
Exposure to lead may affect an unborn baby’s growth in the womb. Babies that are too small at birth face a higher risk of illness and death.

Miscarriage or Stillbirth
Babies exposed to very high levels of lead could die before or at birth.

Learning & Behavior Problems
Studies show that lead can harm an unborn baby’s brain and nervous system. Babies exposed to lead before birth:

  • May not be as intelligent as other children.
  • May have learning and behavior problems.


A child is at risk of lead exposure if the child is under the age of 6 and:

  • Lives in a home built before 1978.
  • Visits a daycare/home built before 1978.
  • Home/daycare has chipping/peeling paint.
  • Siblings are lead poisoned.
  • Lives with an adult who works with lead.


Children are initially screened for lead around the age of 1. Those children with a lead level greater than 5 mg/dl are referred to the health department for follow up. The health department will provide education and may provide home visits for educational and inspection purposes, depending on lead level. For levels greater than 15 mg/dl, a staff member certified as a Lead Hazard Investigator will provide an assessment to help determine the source of the lead contamination.


Six tips to prevent lead poisoning:

  1. Make sure your child has been tested for lead poisoning, even if he or she seems healthy.
  2. Clean home surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge or towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner.
  3. Reduce the risk of lead paint. Make sure your child is not chewing on anything covered with lead paint.
  4. Don’t bring lead dust into your home from work or a hobby.
  5. Eat right and don’t store food in high lead pottery.
  6. If remodeling, follow the home improvement requirements for lead abatement.

Live Lead Safe Program

With funding provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this partnership supplies financial aid to homeowners to reduce or eliminate lead hazards in their home.

Both owner-occupied and rental homes are eligible. Occupants of the home must meet income criteria.