Who is at Risk for Lead Poisoning?

Three young children at school table.Lead poisoning is a significant problem in Wisconsin. Young children are the most vulnerable. Pregnant women are also at risk for lead poisoning, as are their unborn children. People can be exposed to lead through different types of work and hobbies.

The information contained here explains who is at highest risk for lead poisoning, however, this page is just a summary of how pregnant women, workers or other adults can get exposed to lead.

More information on the effects of lead on adults can be found on the Wisconsin Adult Lead Program webpage.

Information on this page has been organized into three categories. Please choose one of the following tabs.

Children

In Wisconsin, children under the age of 6 are the population most vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. In 2016, of those tested for lead, more than 4,000 Wisconsin children under 6 years of age were found to have lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is defined as a blood lead level (BLL) of 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) or more. Lead interferes with the normal development of a child’s brain and can result in lower IQ, learning difficulties, reduced educational achievement, and greater likelihood of behavior problems like aggression, hyperactivity and delinquency.

Young children and developing fetuses are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead. Their bodies are developing at an incredibly fast pace. They ingest more food and water and at a faster pace than older children and adults. The body needs calcium to develop properly. The body thinks lead is calcium and absorbs it when present.

The most common way that young children are exposed to lead is from lead-tainted dust from chipping and peeling paint, especially on friction surfaces. Young children explore their world by putting things in their mouth. Lead dust on windows, floors, and porches can get on children’s hands, onto their toys, and then into their mouths.

For a more in-depth look at specific risk factors for lead poisoning in children, view our Lead Data and Data Analysis page.

Reliable Sources of Information on Children's Vulnerability to Lead

Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention (PDF) details the impact of lead exposure on every body system and challenges the nation to engage in primary prevention so that young children are protected from these irreversible lifelong learning, behavior, and health effects. The document advises the CDC to lower the intervention blood lead level from 10 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) to 5 mcg/dL.

Toxicological Profile for Lead (PDF) Characterizes the negative health effects of lead on humans and is based on key peer-reviewed studies. A two-page summary (PDF) of frequently asked questions (FAQs) is available.

Pregnant Women

Lead has long been recognized as a reproductive toxicant in both men and women. A history of childhood lead exposure and prenatal and postpartum lead exposure are a concern. Concern about all possible pathways of lead exposure has raised questions about reproductive health, prenatal exposure, and breastfeeding. This page is just a summary of how a pregnant or breastfeeding woman can get exposed to lead. Details on the effects of lead while pregnant or breastfeeding can be found under the "For More Information" heading on the Wisconsin Adult Lead Program web page.

If a woman is pregnant and has too much lead in her body, it is possible that it:

  • Puts the mother at risk for having a miscarriage.
  • Could cause the child to be born prematurely.
  • Could cause the child to have learning or behavior problems.
  • Could injure the child's brain, kidneys, and nervous system.
Reliable Sources of Information on Lead and Pregnancy

CDC Guidance for the Identification and Management of Lead Exposure in Pregnant and Lactating Women (PDF)

Reproductive Health and the Workplace: Your job can effect Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Your Family's Health

Developmental Surveillance and Screening of Infants and Young Children (PDF)

 

People Exposed through
Work

Lead is one of the most common exposures found in industry and is a primary cause of workplace illness. If you work around products or materials that contain lead, there is a chance you could be exposed. This page is just a summary of how a pregnant or breastfeeding woman can get exposed to lead. For more details, go to the Wisconsin Adult Lead Program web page.

Certain jobs have been known to put workers at risk of lead exposure:

  • Artists/Painters
  • Construction workers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Glass manufacturers
  • Lead manufacturers/Miners/Refiners/Smelters
  • Plumbers/Pipe fitters
  • Welders
Routes of Exposure

Most exposures occur in homes or child care facilities built before 1978, largely from chipping and peeling lead-based paint and the lead-tainted dust it creates, or where lead hazards have been created through renovation done without using lead-safe work practices.

Lead-emitting industries, such as smelters and battery manufacturing plants can cause lead contamination of air, soil, and food grown in contaminated soil.

Adults working in these industries, or other hobbies or occupations involving exposure to lead, may be directly exposed and/or may carry lead-contaminated dust home to their families on their hair, clothing, and shoes.

Adults may contaminate their vehicle if they do not shower and change their clothes, including their shoes, before entering the vehicle.

A child in Wisconsin was poisoned because the car seat in the vehicle had high levels of lead from the parent's occupation.

How Can You Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe from Lead?
  • Eat and drink in areas away from lead-containing products that are being handled or processed.
  • Wear proper personal protective equipment.
  • Use effective lead removal products to clean your hands. (Washing your hands with soap and water will NOT be enough to remove lead residue.)
  • Shower and change your clothing and shoes after working around lead hazards.
  • Wash your work clothing separately from the family's laundry.
  • Work in well-ventilated areas.
  • Talk to your employer about other lead-safe practices.
Reliable Sources of Information on Lead in Occupation/Hobbies

Reproductive Health and the Workplace

Protecting Workers from Lead Hazards (PDF)

The Effects of Workplace Hazards on Female Reproductive Health (PDF)

Keep Your Family Safe - Don't Bring Lead Home From Your Job, P-01737 (PDF) (Multiple Languages)

Lead and Your Health: No Amount of Lead is Safe, Even for Adults, P-01738 (PDF) (Multiple Languages)

Lead in Fishing Sinkers (PDF) | En Español | Hmong

Lead in Casting and Reloading (PDF) | En Español | Hmong

Protect Ship Workers from Lead (PDF)

More Information

For more information, check out the 2016 Report on Childhood Lead Poisoning in Wisconsin, P-01202 (PDF).

Last Revised: May 10, 2019