Lead-Safe Wisconsin: What is Lead Poisoning?

Smiling children sitting outside

What is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. It was mined in Wisconsin and added as a stabilizing agent to products like:

  • Gasoline
  • Paint
  • Plastics
  • Varnish

What is lead poisoning?

In 1978, lead was banned from being added to paint and varnish for residential use because researchers found it can be toxic to humans and animals. It can damage the brain and other systems, leading to:

  • Developmental delays.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Reduced IQ and attention span.
  • A range of other health and behavioral effects.

Lead is still present in paint and varnish in homes and child care centers built before 1978 and can be harmful. While it can hurt anyone, kids under age 6 are most vulnerable to lead poisoning, and the damage can last a lifetime.

How does lead poison?

Lead poisoning occurs in a few common ways:

  • Lead-tainted dust can get on children’s hands and into their mouths. This can happen because chipping and peeling lead-based paint in older homes is ground to a very fine dust and largely invisible. It can gather in windows, on floors, porches, and in the soil.
  • Lead-based paint can be disturbed during renovations or remodeling. If the work is not conducted safely, the lead fumes and dust in the air can be inhaled or ingested by people in the area.
  • Lead can also be found in:
    • Drinking water service lines and fixtures.
    • Soil from leaded gasoline.
    • Paint and industrial emissions.
    • Products such as toys, children’s jewelry, candies, and traditional remedies, like powders for arthritis.

Lower blood lead reference value

In 2021, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) updated the blood lead reference value to 3.5 µg/dL. This level helps public health authorities identify children with higher levels of lead in their blood compared to most children. The value was previously 5 µg/dL.

Find data on childhood lead poisoning in Wisconsin based on the blood lead reference value.

Find health care guidance for lead-poisoned children.

How can we prevent lead poisoning?

We can prevent lead poisoning by getting rid of the danger before it harms children or others. Wisconsin’s goal is to eliminate the disease by making houses lead-safe, and by getting involved early to stop lead exposure.

Learn about lead-safe renovation in Wisconsin

Brain development

Lead poisoning in children can result in delays in growth, behavior, and learning, which can impact success in school.

Studies have found it can cause:

School performance and behavior

Lifelong health

Lead poisoning in children can harm these bodily systems:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Cognitive
  • Endocrine
  • Immune
  • Musculoskeletal

Studies have found it can cause:

Reproductive health

Lead poisoning in children can harm reproduction in both men and women.

Studies have found it can cause:

More resources

Last Revised: December 28, 2022