Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal that causes lead poisoning when it enters the body. Lead poisoning is commonly measured through a blood test. The results are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). Wisconsin statute (Wis. Stats 254.11[9]) defines lead poisoning in a child as a blood lead level of 10 or more mcg/dL. However, there is no safe level of lead in the human body. Even very low levels of exposure can cause adverse health effects.

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  • What is lead poisoning?
    • Lead is a naturally occurring metal. It may be found in its pure form or in combination with other minerals. Lead has no nutritional value, but is valuable in manufacturing. It was used in house paint until it was banned in 1978. When it enters the body it is toxic and at high enough levels it can cause lead poisoning.

      Lead poisoning is commonly determined by measuring the amount of lead in a persons body by using a blood test. The results are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). Wisconsin statute (Wis. Stats 254.11[9]) defines lead poisoning in a child as a blood lead level of 10 or more mcg/dL. However, there is no safe level of lead in the human body. Even very low levels of exposure can cause adverse health effects.

  • Why is there a focus on lead poisoning in children?
    • Children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) identifies lead as the number one environmental health threat to young children. Lead poisoning in children is preventable. The focus is further refined to be on children younger than six-years-old. The reason for focusing on this age group is because:
      * Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults,
      * Their brain and nervous system are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. As their brain is creating connections and the nervous system is forming, lead poisoning can interrupt this process, and
      * Children are crawling and putting objects in their mouths. They can come into contact with any lead that is present in their environment, such as lead dust on toys or on the floor.

  • What causes lead poisoning in children?
    • Lead was used in house paint for many years. Even though lead-based paint was banned from homes in 1978, it is still the main source for lead poisoning in children because of paint deterioration or lead hazards created through painting or renovation done without using lead-safe work practices. Lead-based paint is usually not a hazard if it is in good condition, meaning it is not cracked or chipped, and it is not on an impact or friction surface, like a window. As the lead-based paint in these homes deteriorates or these homes are remodeled, the dust created can enter the body by:

      * Breathing in the lead dust,
      * Eating it as dust when hands or other objects covered with lead dust are put in the mouth, or
      * Eating paint chips or soil that contains lead.

      Twenty-four million housing units in the United States have peeling or chipping lead-based paint and high levels of lead-contaminated house dust. More than 4 million of these homes are occupied by young children. There are approximately 400,000 housing units in Wisconsin with lead paint hazards.

  • What are the sources for lead?
    • Lead may be found in its pure form or in combination with other minerals. It is valuable in manufacturing and is used with other metal alloys.

      * Lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 is the major source of lead responsible for lead poisoning in children. If you live in or regularly visit homes built before 1978, you may be at risk for lead poisoning. This includes daycare, grandparents or other family members’ homes.
      * Drinking water (Lead pipes, solder, brass fixtures, and valves can all leach lead.)
      * Home health remedies (azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion; (pay-loo-ah, which is used for rash or fever).
      * Toys with lead contamination
      * Candy with lead contamination
      * Working with lead outside of the home can result in it appearing in the home. Jobs or hobbies such as, recycling or making automobile batteries, painting, radiator repair, making stained-glass windows, hunting, fishing or target shooting, can produce lead dust. The dust can cling to your body and clothing and be transported to your car and home.

      Visit the list of current recalls for lead products from the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

  • What children are at-risk for lead poisoning?
    • In Wisconsin, children with one or more of the following characteristics are at the highest risk for lead poisoning:

      * Two years of age,
      * Living or frequently visiting a home built before 1950,
      * Enrolled in Medicaid or the Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC),
      * African American.

  • How can I tell if my child is lead poisoned?
    • The only way to know if your child is lead poisoned is to have your child tested. If your child is at-risk or you are concerned about their exposure to lead, contact your doctor or local health department. Lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms and it frequently goes unrecognized until it is too late and damage has been done. Most symptoms such as speech, language, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities would not be recognized until school age and at that point the damage may be irreversible.

  • How can I prevent my child from being lead poisoned?
    • The main source for lead poisoning in children is from lead-based paint in homes. There are steps that can be taken to ensure your child is not lead poisoned. Remember, lead-based paint is usually not a hazard if it is in good condition, meaning it is not cracked or chipped, and it is not on an impact or friction surface like a window.
    • * Use only cold tap water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead, and most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply.
    • * Avoid using home remedies (such as azarcon, greta, pay-loo-ah), cosmetics (such as kohl, alkohl), and other products that contact lead. A list of recalled products is available at the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program website.
    • In homes built before 1978, do the following:
      • * If paint is deteriorating or on a friction or impact surface, test the paint and dust from your home. Contact your state or local health department to learn more on ways to test and how to safely correct any lead paint or dust hazards that are found.
      • * If you plan to remodel your home, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise. Use proper precautions based on this assumption.
      • * Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and frequently wash a child’s hands, pacifiers, and toys to remove dust and reduce exposure to lead.
      • * If your work involves remodeling buildings built before 1978 or you have hobbies that use lead-based products, take steps to decrease your exposure to lead. For example, showering and changing clothes after finishing the task will decrease the chance of later exposing your child to lead.

  • What are the health effects of lead poisoning?
    • The health effects associated with lead are the same whether it enters the body through breathing or swallowing. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. The main target for lead toxicity is the central nervous system.

      Lead poisoning can cause:
      * Central nervous system and kidney damage,
      * Learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and decreased intelligence,
      * Speech, language, and behavioral problems,
      * Poor muscle coordination and decreased muscle and bone growth, and
      * At very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death.

      Lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, and therefore frequently goes unrecognized.

  • How do you treat a child for lead poisoning?
    • The primary treatment is removing the source of the lead poisoning and allowing the body time to get rid of what it has. Chelation therapy, a way to remove heavy metals from the body, is also used with children who have blood lead levels >45 mcg/dL. Make sure to follow the recommendations given by your health care provider.

  • What is the relationship between lead poisoning and environmental health?
    • The Wisconsin Environmental Public Health Tracking program (WI EPHT) tracks childhood lead poisoning because it is a preventable threat to children. By tracking the patterns for poisonings, professionals can better target their resources for the best prevention strategies. Previous steps have been taken to reduce lead poisonings by banning its use in products, e.g., gasoline. Unfortunately, there are still approximately 310,000 U.S. children aged 1-5 years who are considered lead poisoned.

  • What are the benefits of tracking childhood lead poisoning?
    • Tracking childhood lead poisoning will help identify:

      * Lead testing and poisoning rate changes over time,
      * Seasonal variations,
      * Geographic differences,
      * Differences in lead testing and poisoning by age, gender, and race/ethnicity,
      * Populations in need of targeted interventions.

  • How can tracking childhood lead poisoning improve public health?
    • The development of standardized measures for childhood lead poisoning among residents in each state will inform multiple users at the national, state, and local levels. These measures will allow for monitoring of trends over time and have the potential to identify high risk groups not reflected in current national data. These data may also inform childhood lead poisoning prevention advocates, aid in identifying lead poisoned children, and assist program planning and evaluation efforts.

All external hyperlinks are provided for your information and for the benefit of the general public. The Department of Health Services does not testify to, sponsor, or endorse the accuracy of the information provided on externally linked pages.

Last Revised: March 03, 2014


Data Query

Childhood Lead Poisoning Data:
Access the childhood lead poisoning data in the WI EPHT online database. Review the Data Details below to learn about interpreting the data.

Census Data:
It provides context for the number of houses built prior to 1950 in Wisconsin because they have a high probability of containing paint with a high concentration of lead. If the paint is in poor condition it poses a serious threat to children’s health.

Data Details

What is the data source?

The website provides data from the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program, Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

How does WI EPHT measure childhood lead poisoning?

The WI EPHT website includes the following measures:

  • Annual number of children under 6 tested for lead poisoning,
  • Annual number of children under 6 testing positive for lead poisoning,
  • Annual percent of children under 6 who were poisoned by lead among those who were tested for lead.

What are some considerations for interpreting the data?

There are many factors that can contribute to a disease and should be considered when interpreting the data. Some of these include:

  • The data collected is based on the number of children tested and not based on all children residing in the state or local community
  • Demographics, e.g., race, gender, age
  • Socioeconomic Status, e.g., income level, education
  • Geographic, e.g., urban vs. rural
  • Changes in the medical field, e.g., diagnosis patterns, reporting requirements
  • Individual behavior, e.g., diet, smoking