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Preventing lead poisoning

Lead poisoning can cause damage to the body's nervous system and kidneys. Lead poisoning builds up slowly after months or years of exposure to lead in the environment.

Lead poisoning is especially harmful to young children as it can stunt growth, damage the brain, kidneys and hearing, and can permanently damage brain development.

In adults, lead poisoning can also increase blood pressure, cause digestive problems, sleep problems and muscle and joint pain.

Lead poisoning will be diagnosed from a person's symptoms and confirmed with a test to measure the levels of lead in the blood.

Sources of lead poisoning

The most common sources of lead in the home are peeling or chipping lead-based paint and lead in dust or soil. Lead was widely used in household paint until the mid 1960s. It is now illegal apart from some artistic use and use in historic buildings.

Lead is banned in the manufacture of toys sold in the UK and Europe. Older toys may be a concern, and look out for notices about toy recalls where lead paint may have been used in toys.

Children can swallow harmful amounts of lead if they play in the dirt or in dusty areas (even indoors) and then put their fingers, clothes, or toys in their mouths, or if they eat without first washing their hands. If you suspect your home might have excessive lead levels, you can reduce the exposure to your family.

Once lead enters the bloodstream it accumulates in organs such as the liver, kidneys and brain, tissues, bones and teeth.

Lead is absorbed slowly so poisoning happens over a period of time. Children absorb lead more easily than adults, so are at a greater risk of lead poisoning.

People who work with lead at work can bring contamination home on overalls.

Lead poisoning symptoms

Because lead poisoning happens over time, sometimes years, symptoms may not show immediately while levels are low in the body.
People most at risk from lead paint are pregnant women and young children.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include:

More serious symptoms from prolonged exposure include:

Preventing lead poisoning

  • In older houses, use only water from the cold tap for cooking or drinking. Hot water pipework is likely to have higher levels of lead than cold water.
  • Keep children and pregnant women out of the home if it is being renovated, when lead dust can be stirred up easily.
  • If are concerned you may have lead paint in the home, test kits can be bought from some retail or trade paint shops.
  • If lead paintwork is present, but is in good condition, paint over it with modern paint to seal in the lead. This prevents it from causing harm.
  • If you decide to remove lead paint, seek advice about using methods that don’t create dust or fumes and wear protective clothing and masks.
  • Local environmental health departments can offer advice.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 01, 2016

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