Lead FAQ: Protect Your Family

Information to help you keep your family safe from lead poisoning:

Please click on the + below for answers to these frequently asked questions. 

    • Lead is a natural mineral that has been used in many products.
    • Lead is harmful to the human body.
    • There is NO known safe level of lead in the body.
    • Small amounts of lead can build up in the body and cause lifelong learning and behavior problems. Buildup of lead in the body is referred to as lead poisoning.
    • Lead Poisoning is the most common environmental illness in California children.
    • The United States has taken many steps to remove sources of lead, but lead is still around us.
    • Lead in paint was severely restricted in 1978.
    • Lead solder in food cans was banned in the 1980s.
    • Lead in gasoline was removed during the early 1990s.

    Children under six years old and fetuses are at greatest risk of harmful health effects from lead poisoning. 

    • Their brains and nervous systems are still forming. 
    • They frequently crawl on floors or furniture contaminated with lead dust and put their hands or other objects in their mouths.
    • More of the lead that gets into their mouth is taken up into their bodies. 
    • Much of the lead is stored in their bones.
    • Lead can be measured in their blood and remains in their bodies for a long time.

    Those children at high risk of getting lead into their bodies are:

    • Young children under six years of age who spend time in homes, childcare centers, or buildings built before 1978 that have chipping or peeling paint. (The old paint may still have lead in it.)
    • Young children who play in bare soil. (They may get it in their mouths.)
    • Young children who eat non-food items. (This behavior is known as “pica.”) This may be more common in children with a diet low in iron and calcium. Children who have recently come from or who spend time in other countries where more lead is found.
    • Infants born to mothers with an elevated level of lead in their blood would be at risk for lead poisoning. Lead crosses the placenta and has harmful effects on the fetus. Pregnant women exposed to lead should ask their doctor about a blood test.

    Lead-based paint (pre-1978) 
    It may have been used both inside and outside of a home and on furniture or objects in the home. Children may eat paint chips or chew on the surfaces of cribs, highchairs, windows, woodwork, walls, doors, or railings. 

    Lead-contaminated soil 
    Lead may be in the soil where children play, especially near busy roadways or factories. The lead from gasoline used for many years has settled onto soil and is difficult to remove. The lead in soil can also be from deteriorated exterior paint. This soil may also be tracked inside on shoes and clothing. 

    Lead-contaminated dust from paint or soil 
    It clings to windowsills, floors, doorways and children’s toys, and is dangerous to young children who crawl and often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. 

    Take-home exposure 
    Take-home exposure may be from the dust brought home on clothing, equipment, or in the car or truck driven from work. Lead dust can also come from hobbies that use lead. 

    Some common jobs and hobbies that use lead include: Battery manufacturing, radiator repair, construction, soldering, recycling, painting, demolition, scrap metal recycling, working with stained glass, pottery making, target shooting, and casting fishing weights. 

    Imported food in cans that are sealed with lead solder 
    Some countries other than the United States still allow lead solder in food cans. Cans that have lead solder have very wide seams. 

    Imported home remedies and imported cosmetics may contain lead
    They often are imported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico. The remedies are often bright yellow or orange in color. Examples include: Alarcon, Alkohl, Azarcon, Bali goli, Bint al zahab, Coral, Greta, Farouk, Ghasard, Kandu, Kohl, Liga, Litargirio, Lozeena, Pay-loo-ah, Sindoor, and Surma. There are many others. 

    Imported food and spices
    Imported foods and brightly colored spices that might have lead in them, like chapulines , turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder or cinnamon.

    Imported or handmade pottery and tableware with leaded glaze
    The lead from the glaze gets into food and beverages when these ceramics are used for cooking or storing food. 

    Imported candies or foods, especially from Mexico
    Imported candies or foods containing chili or tamarind may contain lead. Lead can be found in candy, wrappers, pottery containers, and in certain ethnic foods, such as chapulines (dried grasshoppers). 

    Metal jewelry
    Lead has been found in inexpensive children’s jewelry sold in vending machines across the country. It also has been found in inexpensive metal amulets worn for good luck or protection. Some costume jewelry designed for adults has also been found to contain lead. It is important to make sure that children don’t handle, mouth or swallow any jewelry.

    • Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when they are still forming. 
    • Lead can lead to a low blood count (anemia). 
    • Small amounts of lead in the body can make it hard for children to learn, pay attention, and succeed in school. 
    • Higher amounts of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and other major organs. Very high exposure can lead to seizures or death. 

    Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick. Symptoms, if present, may be confused with common childhood complaints, such as stomachache, crankiness, headaches, or loss of appetite. 

    The only way to know if your child has lead poisoning is for the child to get a blood test for lead. Talk to your child’s health care provider to see if your child is at risk for lead poisoning. Your child may need a blood test for lead.  

    Children age 12 months and 24 months who are enrolled in publicly funded health care such as Medi-Cal, Child Health and Disability Prevention Program (CHDP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), or Healthy Families are at high risk and should be tested. Cost for the test is covered by government health programs and most health insurance plans.  

    ​Children enrolled in publicly-funded health care who are between 24 months and 6 years old that have not been tested at the appropriate times, should be tested. Young children under six years of age who spend time in homes, childcare centers, or buildings built before 1978 that have chipping or peeling paint should be tested.  

    Any infant or child who is thought to be at risk or comes in contact with items that may contain lead should be tested.

    Yes, however, the best approach is to stop your children from coming into contact with lead.

    The most common way to treat lead poisoning in children is to find the lead source and remove it from their environment.

    Few children have high enough levels of lead in their blood that they require a medicine called a chelating agent. A chelating agent is a type of medicine that helps to remove the lead from the child’s body.

    Any other problems associated with lead poisoning, such as anemia, should be treated.
    A healthy diet is recommended.

    • Wash your child’s hands and face frequently, especially before eating.
    • Wash toys, countertops and windowsills and wet mop floors weekly 
    • Clean up paint chips and peeling  paint safely
    • Don’t use imported foods that come in cans with wide seams.
    • Avoid giving children imported candy or snacks containing chili or tamarind.
    • Avoid imported foods and brightly colored spices that might have lead in them, like chapulines and turmeric.
    • Feed your child regular meals with a diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C and low in fat.
    • Keep furniture away from damaged paint. Pay special attention to cribs, beds, highchairs, and playpens.
    • Allow cold water to run for a few minutes in the morning, or if the water has not been run in the last 6 hours, before using it for drinking, cooking, or mixing formula in case there may be lead in your household pipes. Do not use hot water from the tap for drinking or in food preparation.  You can get your water tested.
    • Avoid using handmade, older, or imported dishes or crystal for food or drink preparation, storage, or serving, unless you are sure they do not contain lead.
    • Avoid using imported home remedies or cosmetics that contain lead. If you are not sure, contact the Santa Clara County CLPPP.
    • Take off your shoes before entering the house. (Wipe shoes off - this will help prevent lead dust and soil from getting into your house.)
    • Don’t let your child play in areas where bare soil is exposed.
    • Vacuum carpets frequently to reduce household dust, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Vacuum in vertical and then horizontal patterns. Clean or replace the vacuum filter frequently. If cleaning a reusable filter, be sure to complete this task outside the home so potential lead containing dust is not released inside again.
    • Change out of work clothes before entering the house or being in contact with family members. If you work with lead at your job or hobby, take a shower at your workplace, if possible. Otherwise, shower and remove clothing immediately upon returning home. Handle clothing carefully and wash separately.
    • When moving into a home, ask the owner about any problems with lead and know the age of the building.
    • Before remodeling, ask a trained professional to test the paint in your house. If lead is in the paint, learn how to handle it safely.

    To protect against airborne lead, follow these steps to lessen the potential impact of ingesting or inhaling lead in the air:

    • Periodically wipe down outdoor play structures, patios and toys 
    • Wash produce grown in an outdoor garden thoroughly with water before eating
    • While indoors:
      • Properly maintain all central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC). Upgrade the HVAC filter to the highest possible filtration rating (known as MERV) for your HVAC system. The higher the MERV rating, the better the filtration. Contact an HVAC Technician for questions about your systems’ compatibility.
      • Change the filter more frequently

    A good diet can help prevent lead from getting into your child’s body. These suggestions provide your child with a healthy diet and also prevent lead from being absorbed into your child’s body.

    Your child should:

    • Eat regular meals and healthy snacks (four to six times a day).
    • Eat calcium-rich foods (cheese, milk, spinach, salmon, yogurt, tofu, and leafy greens).
    • Eat iron-rich foods (lean red meat, chicken or turkey without skin, raisins, beans, oatmeal, and split peas).
    • Eat vitamin C to help the body absorb iron (fruit juice, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, broccoli, kiwi, and strawberries).
    • Reduce fatty foods such as fried foods, fast foods, and “junk” foods (donuts, potato chips, and cupcakes). However, some fat in the diet is very important for brain development, especially under age two.
    • Milk and butter are healthier sources of fat. 
    • Most adults are not at risk, unless they work with lead in some capacity. Adults with lead poisoning can suffer from damage to the nervous system, reproductive system, digestive system, and kidneys.
    • Adults who work with or around lead can unknowingly bring lead dust home on their work clothes and shoes. This can cause their children to be exposed to lead.
    • Pregnant women exposed to lead could have lead in their body, and their baby could be born too early or too small, have health problems, and have problems learning. The only way to know if you have lead in your body is to have a blood test for lead.
    • The County of Santa Clara state-funded Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program works to prevent the damaging effects of lead poisoning in children and young adults from birth to age 21. The program uses a multidisciplinary team, including a public health nurse, health education specialist, public health assistant, and registered environmental health specialist.
    • Through a coordinated team effort, the program provides case management for children and youth diagnosed with or at risk for lead poisoning, education and outreach to reduce lead poisoning, and working with health care providers to ensure timely reporting of lead test results.

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