What is Lead Poisoning?
Lead is a heavy metal that was used in paint, gasoline, and other things. It can also be found in certain candies and spices from other countries, some plastic toy pieces and toy jewelry, and tap water. High levels of lead in a person’s blood are called “lead poisoning.” Lead poisoning occurs when a person breathes in or swallows lead. Lead poisoning may cause severe negative health effects, especially in infants and children.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Some children with lead poisoning may experience:
- Upset stomach
- Trouble eating or sleeping
- Trouble paying attention
A lead test is the only way to know if a child (or adult) has lead poisoning because most children who have lead poisoning do not appear sick, especially if they have low levels of lead in their bodies. Because they often do not appear sick, many cases of lead poisoning are often unreported for long periods of time (if ever). Even low levels of lead can cause negative health effects over long periods of time. (See below)
What are the long-term effects of lead?
Lead can cause problems with the brain, kidneys, and nervous system and affect children’s behavior. Aside from these problems, low-level lead poisoning can:
- Slow growth and development
- Make it difficult to learn
- Affect hearing and speech
In addition to these effects, high-level lead poisoning can cause seizures and comas or even be fatal.
Similar to environmental tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke), Research indicates there is NO safe level of lead. Any level of lead in the body can cause a negative health effect, even in adults. Recent studies are showing that even very low levels of lead (under 10 micrograms/dL) affect brain and kidney development.
Overall, one key fact about lead poisoning is that harm done by lead may be permanent. That is why it is important to get a lead test and protect homes from lead dust and lead-based products.
How do children get lead poisoning?
Children are most commonly poisoned by lead dust in the home. Lead dust is created by chipping (lead-based) paint or renovations to lead-painted surfaces. Children can touch, swallow, and/or breathe in this dust. Children can also get lead poisoning by putting lead-painted things in their mouths or by eating lead paint chips. In rare cases, children are poisoned by lead in water and soil.
The Massachusetts Lead Law
The Lead Law protects children less than 6 years old who live in homes built before 1978. Deleading (work done to remove or cover lead hazards) is the responsibility of the landlord or property owner. If there is lead paint in the home, the owner is required to fix it and have a certificate stating that they have fixed it (a certificate of compliance). If a child is lead poisoned from their home, the owner or landlord is held responsible.