A plumber using a wrench on old rusty pipes.

Lead Poisoning | Toxicity, Symptoms & Overdose Treatments

Julie Weber Trending Topics

Lead is a highly poisonous metal that can be found in some plumbing and paint used on old houses and old toys. Adults and children can experience lead poisoning, but it is more common in younger children. Lead poisoning in children is one of the most preventable environmental poisonings. Learn more about lead poisoning and how to prevent it from happening to you or your family.

HOW DO YOU GET LEAD POISONING?

Children can get lead poisoning by eating or breathing in dust from lead-based paint. Lead-based paint can be on old house walls, old toys, furniture, and even certain hobby materials especially if painted before the year 1978. Another source of lead poisoning is tap water. Usually, this is more common in older homes, when lead pipes were used. Lead poisoning from tap water can affect both children and adults.

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY HOUSE PIPES ARE EXPOSING ME & MY FAMILY TO LEAD?

Lead pipes can be found in homes built before 1986. A magnet will not adhere to lead, so this can be one way to determine if your pipe is a lead pipe. Hardware stores offer at-home water tests that look for levels of lead in your tap. Testing done by a certified laboratory is the most accurate way to determine the lead risk in your home. 

 If you are concerned that your house’s water main or plumbing may be exposing you to lead, it’s best to contact your water utility company or a licensed plumber. A professional can determine if any water lines have lead pipes and if so, what the next steps are.

CAN I GET LEAD POISONING IF MY SHOWER HAS LEAD PIPES?

No, you cannot get lead poisoning from bathing in water that contains lead. Not even if there is more lead than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends in the bathwater. Lead is not absorbed through the skin, so washing in a shower or bath that has water from a lead pipe should be safe for you and your children.

IS PENCIL LEAD POISONOUS?

No, pencil lead is not poisonous and is not made out of lead at all. Pencil lead is made from a soft mineral called graphite that is bound together with wax and clay.

Old gray white paint chipping off a house wall that can lead to lead poisoning.

LEAD POISONING SYMPTOMS

Signs of lead poisoning vary depending on the person’s age and the amount of lead in their system. Lead poisoning is more common in children, but can still happen to adults too. The symptoms of lead poisoning are common and are often hard to detect. Symptoms do not usually appear until a lead level is moderately elevated in a person’s blood. Some symptoms for both children and adults include:

  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and or cramps
  • Constipation
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Loss of appetite
  • High blood pressure
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Anemia
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Memory loss

LONG TERM EFFECTS LEAD HAS ON CHILDREN

The first five years of a child’s life is an important time where their brains develop more than any other time in their life. If a child is exposed to lead in early childhood when their brain is still developing, the result can be intellectual damage including: 

  • Growth delays
  • Short and long term learning disabilities
  • Problems with hearing
  • Low IQ
  • Behavior problems

SIGNS OF SEVERE LEAD POISONING THAT NEEDS EMERGENCY CARE

If someone is exposed to a toxic amount of lead and is showing any of these symptoms seek emergency care right away.

  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stumbling while walking
  • Vomiting
  • Severe abdominal cramping and pain
  • Coma
  • Confusion 

CAN YOUR BODY GET RID OF LEAD?

Yes, the body naturally gets rid of lead that has entered your body, but it is a slow process occurring over many months or years. There is treatment for lead poisoning called chelation which helps remove lead, but the damage it leaves on the body may not be fully reversed. Therefore, it is important to determine the source of lead poisoning and reduce or eliminate contact with it for the greatest benefit and recovery. 

WHERE IS LEAD POISONING MOST COMMON?

Lead is most common in older houses or houses in low-income areas. Houses built before 1978 and in low-income areas most likely have lead-based paint on their walls, and lead pipes, faucets, and plumbing. Toys made before 1978 can also have lead-based paint on them that can chip or be ingested by children.

THINK YOU WERE EXPOSED? CONTACT THE MISSOURI POISON CENTER!

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have been exposed to lead, call 1-800-222-1222 now. The Missouri Poison Center answers callers’ questions about poisonings every day of the year 24/7. It’s free and confidential, so don’t wait, call now!

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