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Lead-Based Paint Poisoning

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are common sources of lead poisoning in children. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil. Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations or work in auto repair shops also might be exposed to lead.

There is treatment for lead poisoning, but taking some simple precautions can help protect you and your family from lead exposure before harm is done.

Symptoms: Initially, lead poisoning can be hard to detect — even people who seem healthy can have high blood levels of lead. Signs and symptoms usually don't appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated.

Lead poisoning symptoms in children - Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

  • Developmental delay

  • Learning difficulties

  • Irritability

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Sluggishness and fatigue

  • Abdominal pain

  • Vomiting

  • Constipation

  • Hearing loss

  • Seizures

  • Eating things, such as paint chips, that aren't food (pica)

Lead poisoning symptoms in newborns - Babies exposed to lead before birth might:

  • Be born prematurely

  • Have lower birth weight

  • Have slowed growth

Lead poisoning symptoms in adults - Although children are primarily at risk, lead poisoning is also dangerous for adults. Signs and symptoms in adults might include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Joint and muscle pain

  • Difficulties with memory or concentration

  • Headache

  • Abdominal pain

  • Mood disorders

  • Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm

  • Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women

Causes: Lead is a metal that occurs naturally in the earth's crust, but human activity — mining, burning fossil fuels and manufacturing — has caused it to become more widespread. Lead was also once used in paint and gasoline and is still used in batteries, solder, pipes, pottery, roofing materials and some cosmetics.

Lead in paint - Lead-based paints for homes, children's toys and household furniture have been banned in the United States since 1978. But lead-based paint is still on walls and woodwork in many older homes and apartments. Most lead poisoning in children results from eating chips of deteriorating lead-based paint.

Water pipes and imported canned goods - Lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures and copper pipes soldered with lead can release lead particles into tap water. Lead solder in food cans, banned in the United States, is still used in some countries.

Other sources of lead exposure - Lead sometimes can also be found in:

  • Soil. Lead particles from leaded gasoline or paint settle on soil and can last years. Lead-contaminated soil is still a major problem around highways and in some urban settings. Some soil close to walls of older houses contains lead.

  • Household dust. Household dust can contain lead from lead paint chips or from contaminated soil brought in from outside.

  • Pottery. Glazes found on some ceramics, china and porcelain can contain lead that can leach into food served or stored in the pottery.

  • Toys. Lead is sometimes found in toys and other products produced abroad.

  • Cosmetics. Tiro, an eye cosmetic from Nigeria, has been linked to lead poisoning. Kohl is another eye makeup that may contain lead.

  • Herbal or folk remedies. Lead poisoning has been linked to greta and azarcon, traditional Hispanic medicines, as well as some from India, China and other countries.

  • Mexican Candy. Tamarind, an ingredient used in some candies made in Mexico, might contain lead.

  • Lead bullets. Time spent at firing ranges can lead to exposure.

  • Occupations. People are exposed to lead and can bring it home on their clothes when they work in auto repair, mining, pipe fitting, battery manufacturing, painting, construction and certain other fields.

Many housing units in North Eastern and North Central United States were coated with lead-based paint. The Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act of 197l helped reduce the incidence of acute lead-based paint poisoning, specifically in urban areas. However, in suburban areas many aren’t as well informed about lead and don’t know if they’re exposed to or what their lead poisoning risks are. “Families renovating old homes have often been unaware that the risk of lead poisoning pertained to them.” Middle-class and Upper-class families renovating their homes was the activity that generated the poisoning.

This family was exposed to lead dust and lead fumes during renovation of their Victorian farm house in rural upstate New York in late June 1987. Their farm house consisted of solid wooden floors, wooden moldings, and door frames that had been covered with multiple coats of lead-based paint. The walls had been covered with multiple coats of lead-based paint and wall paper.

During mid-October, one of their pet dogs, a 10-year-old mixed breed dog labeled as “Dog I” began "shaking and twisting”. This particular dog was seen licking the old, dusty coat of one of the renovation workers who sanded old paint during the renovation. Lead dusts can invade all areas of a home, making the cleaning process very difficult and producing continued exposure. Also, the resulting chips may be eaten by small children and animals. The mother began feeling ill during November, due to (her and her un-born baby) absorbing lead fumes in her home as it was being renovated. Her daughter complained of stomach aches and had severe nausea, which leads me to believe that she was already poisoned but her condition was worsening. The children's baby-sitter, a 24-year old woman who cared for the children in their home, was found with levels of lead in her blood.

It doesn't matter if you live in the suburbs or in an urban environment, lead based paint is very dangerous.


1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, January 21). Lead poisoning. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from

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