When lead enters the body, it is toxic and at high enough levels, it can cause lead poisoning.
Wisconsin Tracking hosts adult lead data to the county level and childhood lead poisoning data to the census tract level.
The section below presents answers to frequently asked questions about lead poisoning and the data.
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What is lead poisoning?
Lead is a naturally occurring metal. It may be found by itself or with other minerals. Lead has no nutritional value, but it is useful in manufacturing. When lead enters the body, it is toxic and at high enough levels, it can cause lead poisoning.
Lead was used in house paint until it was banned in 1978. Daily activities that create friction, such as raising and lowering painted windows or climbing porch stairs, causing an impact on painted floors and stairs, can cause lead based paint (LBP) to break down into lead-contaminated dust. Lead dust can also be created when LBP is disturbed through home renovation or repair. That dust is mostly invisible and can be ingested by a young child unknowingly.
Lead is common in industries including construction, mining, and manufacturing, where workers are at risk of being exposed to lead by breathing it in, ingesting it, or coming in contact with it. People may also come into contact with lead through other jobs and hobbies. Lead poisoning can occur when working near lead dust, lead-based products, and lead fumes. Lead dust can also be taken home on workers’ clothing, shoes, or tools, which can expose children and other household members to lead (this is called “take-home lead”).
There is no safe level of lead in the human body. Even very low levels of exposure can cause adverse health effects.
Lead poisoning is commonly determined by measuring the amount of lead in a person’s body by using a blood test. The results are measured in micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). Wisconsin statute (Wis. Stats 254.11) defines lead poisoning in a child as a blood lead level of 5 or more µg/dL. However, there is no safe blood lead level; even very low levels of lead exposure can cause permanent brain damage and negatively affect learning, behavior, and health throughout a child’s life. Parents who would like to have their child tested for lead poisoning should contact their doctor or the local health department. CDC recommends a blood lead level of less than 5 µg/dL for adults as well. Adults can contact their doctor to get tested.
This fact sheet (PDF) provides resources for lead poisoning in adults. Visit the Adult Lead For Workers and All Adults webpage to learn more about lead poisoning in adults. This fact sheet (PDF) provides more information about the health effects of childhood lead poisoning. Visit the Prevention and Intervention for Lead Exposure webpage for more information on childhood lead poisoning.
How is lead poisoning related to environmental health?
Wisconsin Tracking tracks lead poisoning because it is a preventable threat to adults and children. By tracking the patterns for lead poisoning, professionals can better target their resources for the best prevention strategies. Banning lead in gasoline, paint, and other products has helped reduce how much lead we come in contact with.
Unfortunately, in 2016, there were 18,093 adults in the 26 states reporting who had blood lead levels at or above 10 µg/dL and 40,122 children 1-5 years old in the 29 states reporting who had confirmed blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL.
Why do we track adult lead exposures?
There is no safe level of lead in the human body. Even very low levels of exposure in adults can cause adverse health effects. It is important to track adult lead exposures to improve the health of adults and to stop lead dust from poisoning a child or other adults in the household.
Tracking adult lead poisoning will help identify:
- Lead poisoning rate changes over time
- Geographic differences
- Workplaces and areas in need of targeted interventions
- Take-home lead: households where children or other adults may have lead exposure from lead dust brought home on an adult’s work clothes, tools, or shoes.
Why do we track childhood lead poisoning?
Children are more likely to get lead poisoning than adults. The CDC identifies lead as the number one environmental health threat to young children. Lead poisoning in children is preventable.
Prevention efforts are focused on children younger than 6 years old because:
- Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults.
- Their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. At this age, the brain is still developing, and lead poisoning can stunt this development.
- Children crawl and put 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.
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
What is the data source?
The website provides data from the Adult Lead Program and the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Which measures do we use for lead poisoning?
- Number and rate of all adults with blood lead levels at or over 5, 10, 25, and 40 µg/dL
- Number and rate of adults newly recorded for the year with blood lead levels at or over 5, 10, 25, and 40 µg/dL
Rates are adults per 100,000 employed adults in the state or county. All measures are available at the state and county level.
Childhood Lead Poisoning
- Number of children under 6 tested for lead poisoning
- Number of children under 6 testing positive for lead poisoning (in other words, number of children poisoned)
- Percent of children under 6 poisoned by lead among those who were tested for lead
All measures are available at the state, county, and census tract level.
What are some considerations for interpreting the data?
- The data collected are based on the number of children or adults tested and not based on all children or adults living in the state or local community.
- Data users should keep in mind that many factors contribute to a disease. These factors should be considered when interpreting the data. Factors include:
- Demographics (race, gender, age)
- Socioeconomic status (income level, education)
- Geography (rural, urban)
- Changes in the medical field (diagnosis patterns, reporting requirements)
- Individual behavior (diet, smoking)
Where can I learn more?
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Lead-Safe Wisconsin
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Adult Lead Program
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Children and the Environment
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services – Lead and Your Health (PDF)
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Take-Home Lead (PDF)
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Lead in Drinking Water (PDF)