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Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 22 children in America have high levels of lead in their blood. Many homes and apartments built before 1978 have lead paint or varnish on the walls, woodwork, windows and floors. In homes built before 1950 there is a greater chance the paint contains lead.

When children are exposed to lead dust it can cause illness. It can also cause problems with learning, growth, and behaviors that can affect a child's entire life. Even small amounts of lead can be harmful.

The Public Health Department offers lead testing to all children under age 6 years who are at risk for lead poisoning, at no charge. All children who are enrolled in the WIC program receive lead testing at one and two years of age. The test is done by obtaining a blood sample from a finger stick. To determine if a child is at risk for lead poisoning, answer these four easy questions.

  1. Does the child now live in or frequently visit a house or building built before 1950 or has the child done so in the past (for example, in day care, a home of friends or grandparents or other relatives)?
  2. Does the child now live in or frequently visit a house or building built before 1978 with recent or ongoing renovations or have they ever lived in such a building in the past?
  3. Does the child have a brother, sister, or playmate who now has or had lead poisoning?
  4. Is the child enrolled in (or eligible for) Medicaid, HealthCheck, or WIC?

If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions the child should be tested for lead poisoning.

If a child is found to be lead poisoned, the Public Health Department will do an investigation to determine the source of the lead, and give guidelines for the removal of the lead hazard(s). These investigations are done by a certified lead-risk assessor.

To schedule an appointment to test a child for lead poisoning, or if you have questions about lead poisoning, please call the Public Health Department at 262-741-3140 or call toll free 800-365-1587.

What is Lead?

Lead is an elemental metal that was commonly used in many products such as plumbing pipes, paint, and crystal. Today products manufactured in the US are mostly lead free, however imported products, food, and traditional medicines may contain lead.

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning is lead in the body, caused by swallowing or breathing in lead particles. 

Children under 6 years old are most at risk. If you are pregnant, lead can harm your baby.

Adults who work with lead are also at risk.

Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to cause hearing and speech problems, learning disabilities, behavior problems, and loss of IQ points. The effects of lead exposure are permanent and life-long.  In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

Most frequently lead poisoning is caused by deteriorating paint in homes built before 1950.  Any home built before 1978 may contain lead paint. The older the home, the more likely it is to have lead paint.  Windows are frequently the source of the majority of lead paint dust in a home, but many other sources may also be present.  Find out information on having your home tested for lead: HERE.

Your child may be at risk for lead poisoning if any of the following apply:

·         He/she lives in or spends time in a home built before 1950

·         He/she lives in or spends time in a home built before 1978 that is undergoing or has recently undergone renovations

·         He/she has a sibling or playmate with lead poisoning

·         You, or anyone who spends time around the child, work or participate in activities or hobbies that involve lead dust exposure

How can I Prevent Lead Poisoning?

Prevention of lead poisoning can be accomplished by eliminating lead hazards before children are exposed.

Parents: Look out for lead (WI Department of Health Services)

Prevention TIPS (Center for Disease Control)

How do you test for lead?

Your health care provider or the Walworth County WIC program can do a simple blood test to determine the level of lead in the blood.  This test is usually done at 12 and 24 months of age for children who are considered at risk for lead poisoning, and are covered under most health insurance programs including BadgerCare. 

As of May 2012, a blood lead level of 5 µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) or greater is considered to be a “level of concern.”

Blood Lead Levels in Children Fact Sheet (Center for Disease Control)

Walworth County Division of Public Health staff follow up with all children who have blood lead levels  5 µg/dL or greater. Public Health works with the parent and the doctor to confirm the lead level, and provide education and counseling.  If the high lead level is confirmed, the Walworth County Division of Public Health has 3 certified Lead Hazard Investigators on staff who can work with the family to determine the source of the lead and provide instruction and guidance on how to remove the danger from the child’s environment.

Children with extremely high lead levels (40 µg/dL or greater) may be treated with medicine to help remove the lead from their bodies.  This will not reverse any damage already done, but may prevent serious dangers of lead, such as coma.

Lead in Pregnant Women and Adults

During pregnancy, lead can cross over from the mother’s blood into the baby’s blood through the placenta.  This can cause many problems, including:

  • Reduced growth of the baby
  • Premature birth
Lead can also be transmitted through breast milk. Read more on lead exposure in pregnancy and breastfeeding (PDF) (302 pp, 4.2 MB, About PDF).

Adults are less likely to be lead poisoned than children. Adults do not absorb as much lead as children do.  Adults who work with lead (such as renovation/demolition work, marine and bridge painting, brass manufacturing) are most likely to have high lead levels.  High lead levels in adults can cause:

  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Infertility for both men and women

Avoid Lead Exposures during Remodeling: Renovate Right

Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the most hazardous sources of lead for U.S. children.   When lead-based paint begins to fail (chip or peel away) or when it is disturbed (by renovation/remodeling), the dust created can be ingested or inhaled by children. 

Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978.

All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. However, it is the deterioration or disturbance of this paint that causes a problem.  

Wisconsin’s Lead Safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule follows Federal regulations (EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, or RRP) stating that all homes built before 1978 must use certified companies and lead-safe practices for renovation projects, even if children do not live or spend time in the home. 

Wisconsin Lead Certified Companies

For more information about lead please visit:

·         Wisconsin Department of Health Services: Lead-Safe Home Program

·         Environmental Protection Agency

·         Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

·         March of Dimes Healthy Pregnancy

·         Effects of Workplace Hazards on Female Reproductive Health,

·         Preventing Child Lead Exposure by Window Replacement




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