Although children are most at risk for lead poisoning, it can affect everyone, especially pregnant people and those exposed through the workplace.
In Wisconsin, children under 6—including developing fetuses—are most vulnerable to lead exposure because their bodies and brains are developing at such a fast pace. Due to their rapid development, they ingest more food and water, and at a faster rate, than older children and adults.
Exposure most commonly occurs when a child touches lead dust on floors or windows then puts their hands in their mouths. The child’s digestive system might mistake the lead for calcium, which it needs to develop properly, and absorb it.
Lead poisoning occurs when a child’s blood is found to have a level of lead that’s 3.5 µg/dL or more. Lead can interfere with the normal development of a child’s brain, causing:
- A greater risk of behavioral problems, including aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity.
- A lower IQ.
- Fewer academic achievements.
- Learning difficulties.
- Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention (PDF) from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Toxicological Profile for Lead (PDF) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
If a pregnant person has too much lead in their body, it can cause:
- Injury to the child’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system.
- Miscarriage risk.
- The child to be born prematurely.
- The child to have learning or behavior problems.
- Guidelines for the Identification and Management of Lead Exposure in Pregnant and Lactating Women (PDF)
- Identifying Infants and Young Children with Developmental Disorders in the Medical Home: An Algorithm for Developmental Surveillance and Screening
- Pregnancy, Breastfeeding & Family—Reproductive Health
People exposed through work
Lead exposure in the workplace can cause illness.
These are some of the occupations that can be at risk for lead exposure because they do, or may, work with materials that contain lead:
- Auto mechanics
- Battery manufacturers
- Bridge reconstruction workers
- Construction workers
- Glass manufacturers
- Lead manufacturers/miners/refiners/smelters
- Manufacturers of bullets, ceramics, and electrical components (all contain lead)
- Plastic manufacturers
- Plumbers/pipe fitters
- Police officers (ammunition contains lead)
- Radiator repairers
- Recyclers of metal, electronics and batteries
- Rubber product manufacturers
- Solid waste incinerator operators
Routes of exposure
Adults working in industries where lead is emitted, like smelters and battery manufacturing plants, can be exposed to lead. They can also take lead into their homes and cars with them, through their hair, clothes, and shoes.
You can keep yourself and your family safe from lead by:
- Working in a well-ventilated area.
- Talking to your employer about lead-safe practices.
- Participating in medical monitoring and being willing to switch to tasks with less exposure according to your blood lead level results.
- Wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Using lead-removal products to clean your hands. (Soap and water are not enough.)
- Not eating and drinking close to where products that contain lead are handled or processed.
- Showering and changing your clothes and shoes after working around lead.
- Washing your clothes separately from your family’s.