Learn About Lead


Lead is a highly toxic metal.  It was commonly used in:

  • Household paint (banned in 1978)
    • Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint.
  • Gasoline (banned in 1995)
  • Plumbing pipes and fixtures 

What is an elevated blood lead level?

In Michigan, a blood lead level (BLL) of five (5) micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher is considered elevated. 

Most people who have an elevated blood lead level do not look or act sick.  A blood lead test is the only way to determine a blood lead level. 

Talk with your doctor about getting a lead test for you or your child if:

  • You believe you have been exposed to lead
  • You are at risk of lead exposure

How am I exposed to lead?

Lead enters the body through inhalation (breathing in) or ingestion (eating or drinking) lead or lead dust. 

Exposure to lead happens during the application, removal and failure of integrity (deterioration) of lead-based paint or from soil lead hazards.  Deteriorated paint includes:

  • Any paint coating that is peeling, chipping, blistering, flaking, worn, chalking, cracking, or otherwise becoming separated from the painted surface.

Lead-based paint breaks down into:

  • Paint chipschips are paint pieces that are detached from the original painted surface.  Chips include paint that is peeling, chipping, chalking or cracked.
  • Dust – dust is created when lead paint is scraped, dry sanded, heated or burned, or when painted surfaces rub together (opening / closing windows and doors).  Dust is the most common source of lead exposure among children. 
    • Dust from lead-based paint can also contaminate the soil.  This can be a source of exposure when children play on the ground, or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes. 

Lead chips and dust settle on surfaces and objects people touch.  Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when:

  • Vacuuming or sweeping
  • People or their pet walk through it
  • Windows or doors are open and allow air to circulate
  • Fans circulate the air
  • Air is moving in the home for any reason

There are other sources of lead exposure.  Lead is found in products that you may have in your home.  These household items include:

  • Painted toys and furniture
  • Toy jewelry
  • Cosmetics (makeup)
  • Plumbing products like pipes and fixtures
  • Food or liquid containers made of lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain

Lead is present for some jobs and hobbies.  You can bring lead home with you on your clothes or hands after doing these activities. These include:

  • Renovation and painting
  • Mining
  • Smelting
  • Battery recycling
  • Refinishing old furniture
  • Auto body work
  • Stock cars (weights used in stock cars)
  • Shooting ranges
  • Hunting (shot)
  • Retained bullet fragments
  • Fishing (fishing sinkers and jigs)
  • Stained glass (came and solder)
  • Making pottery (dyes and glazes)

How can I reduce lead exposure?

To reduce lead poisoning through nutrition:

  • Eat healthy foods with calcium, iron, and vitamin C.  These foods may help keep lead from being digested. 
    • Calcium is in milk, yogurt, cheese, and green leafy vegetables
    • Iron is in lean red meats, beans, peanut butter, and cereals
    • Vitamin C is in oranges, green and red peppers, and juice

To reduce lead exposure in the home:

  • Regularly wash hands, toys, and horizontal surfaces with wet methods.  This method of cleaning includes: 
    • Washing surfaces with soapy water
    • Using disposable cleaning materials (paper towel)
  • Vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered vacuum
  • Take shoes off before entering the home or living areas
  • Cover lead exposed soil with fruitless plant materials
  • Hire certified lead professionals to assist with home renovations in pre-1978 housing
    • Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint.  Performing home renovations may disturb this paint and be a source of lead exposure.  Using lead-safe work practices is critical when renovating.  For guidance on lead-safe renovations, please visit www.epa.gov/lead/lead-safe-certified-guide-renovate-right.  Or hire a certified lead professional to do the work for you!  

To reduce lead exposure from your job or hobby:

  • Do not put leaded items in your mouth (fishing sinkers, etc.)
  • Wash hands before eating or drinking
  • Avoid touching your face while working with lead materials
  • Change clothes before entering home
  • Wash clothes separately from other family members clothes

Who is at risk?

Children under the age of six (6) are especially vulnerable due to:

  • Frequent hand-to-mouth activity (mouthing objects)
  • Consuming more food and drink, and breathing more air per kilogram of body weight than adults
  • Digesting 4-5 times more lead from the gut than adults
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as an iron deficiency (which increases the bioavailability of lead – meaning it makes lead more available to enter the body)

Pregnant women and nursing mothers can be at risk.  Too much lead in your body can:

  • Put you at risk of miscarriage
  • Cause your baby to be born too early or too small
  • Hurt your baby's brain, kidneys, and nervous system
  • Cause your child to have learning or behavior problems

Adults employed in occupations like construction or lead smelting can be exposed to lead. The following steps can prevent take-home lead from becoming a family-wide concern:

  • Don't eat, drink or smoke on the job
  • Wash hands before eating, drinking, smoking or touching your face
  • Wear the proper protective equipment on the job, including a respirator
  • Shower, wash your hair and change into clean clothes before leaving work
  • Store street clothes in a separate locker from your work clothes
  • Wash work clothes separately from other laundry. After washing lead-contaminated clothing and removing them from the machine, run the rinse cycle once before using the washing machine again

What are the health effects?

The body and nervous system are not fully developed in children under the age of six (6).  One of the systems lead affects is the nervous system.  Lead is a multi-system toxicant, causing:

  • Brain and nervous system damage
  • Decreased IQ
  • Learning difficulties
  • Speech, language, and behavior problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Slow or reduced growth
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Reproductive problems (adult)
  • Digestive problems
  • Kidney damage
  • Anemia
  • High blood pressure



‚ÄčIs Your Child Safe From Lead Poisoning

Guide to Safe Cleaning of Lead Paint Chips and Dust

Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right

What Your Child's Blood Lead Test Means

Pregnant and Nursing Mothers: What You Need to Know about Lead Poisoning

Well Fed Means Less Lead

Take-Home Lead: A Preventable Risk for Your Family

Childproof Home Improvements

Lead Poisoning: Know the Facts

Renovate Safe

Spices and Remedies


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA)

  • Find information about lead and child care provider responsibilities

Green and Healthy Homes Initiative

Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan

Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH)

Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA)

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)