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Lead and Your Health

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Department of Health and Human Services

Lead and Your Health

Why should I be concerned about lead exposure?

When lead is swallowed, it can cause health problems. Swallowing lead can be a serious issue for children because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing. Too much lead can cause problems with:

  • Learning
  • Behavior
  • Speech
  • Hearing
  • Growth rates
  • Development of the nervous system

How do I know if I am being exposed to lead?

The only way to know if you have a recent or on-going exposure to lead is to get a blood lead test. During a blood lead test, a small amount of blood is taken from the finger or arm and tested for lead. Two types of blood tests may be used.

  • A finger-prick, or capillary, test is usually the first step to determine a blood lead level. While finger-prick tests can provide fast results, they also can produce higher results if lead on the skin is captured in the sample. For this reason, a finger-prick test that shows an elevated result is usually followed by a second test to confirm.
  • A venous blood draw takes blood from the vein. This type of test can take a few days to receive results and is often used to confirm elevated blood lead levels seen in the first capillary test.

Talk with your healthcare provider about getting a blood lead test for you or your children. If you do not have a healthcare provider, contact your local health department to discuss their available services for blood lead testing. If you have other questions about blood lead testing, please call the MDHHS Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 517-335-8885 or email them at MDHHS-CLPPP@michigan.gov.

People who live in homes built before 1978, especially children.

Children are most at risk because they:

  • Eat and drink more based on their body size when compared to adults.
  • Breathe at faster rates when compared to adults.
  • Absorb 4-5 times more of the lead they swallow than adults.
  • May be missing key nutrients in their body, such as calcium and iron – so their body mistakenly keeps lead in place of healthy nutrients.
  • Often put their hands in their mouths.
  • Sometimes chew on toys and other household objects and furniture that may contain lead.

Fetuses and nursing babies are also at risk because lead can pass through the placenta to the fetus when the mother is exposed. Lead can also pass through breast milk to a nursing baby when the mother is exposed. Note, the benefits of breastfeeding are usually greater than these risks, though. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine what is best for you and your baby.

People with pica. 

Pica is the craving to eat nonfood items, such as dirt, paint chips, and clay. Pica is most common in 1- and 2-year old children and usually goes away as they get older. Pica has also been observed in adults, especially pregnant women. Pica is sometimes a result of a nutritional shortage, such as iron-deficiency anemia.

People who have jobs or hobbies working with lead.

People who work with lead could track it home if proper measures are not taken to stop that from happening. Your employer should inform you if lead is in use at your workplace. Common hobbies that may use lead include stained glass making, hunting, and fishing. Visit Jobs and Hobbies to learn more.

People who get their drinking water from a public water supply that has an Action Level Exceedance according to the State's Lead and Copper Rule.

To find out if your water supply is affected, visit the Action Level Exceedance page.

Talk with your healthcare provider about getting a blood lead test for you and your loved ones if you are concerned about a recent or ongoing lead exposure. Or, if you live in southeast Michigan, visit one of our free mobile lab events near you!

Most people who have lead in their blood do not look or act sick. However, there is no safe level of lead in the blood. As lead exposure increases, the range and seriousness of health effects increases.

Lower levels of lead in children can result in:

  • Lower IQ scores.
  • Decreased academic achievement.
  • Increased problems with behavior and attention related disorders.
  • Decreased hearing.
  • Decreased kidney function.

Along with the health effects listed above, higher levels of lead in children can also result in:

  • Anemia.
  • Severe stomachache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
  • Muscle weakness or soreness.
  • Severe damage to the brain, nervous system, and kidneys.

Lower levels of lead in adults can result in:

  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Decreased kidney function.
  • Decreased cognitive function.
  • Slower reaction times.
  • Altered mood and behavior.

Along with the health effects listed above, higher levels of lead in adults can also result in:

  • Anemia.
  • Muscle weakness or soreness.
  • Severe stomachache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
  • Poor sperm and semen quality.
  • Delayed conception.
  • Increased risk of heart disease.

A blood lead test is the only way to know if you and your loved ones have recent or on-going exposures to lead. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services considers 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or more to be an Elevated Blood Lead Level (or EBLL). Talk to your healthcare provider about getting a blood lead test for you and your loved ones if you're concerned about a recent or on-going lead exposure. 

If you live in a home built before 1978:

  • Wash toys and flat surfaces - like windowsills and tables - using soapy water. Follow these safe lead cleaning tips for lead paint chips and dust.
  • Take your shoes off before going into your home to avoid tracking lead-containing soil and dust from outside.
  • Vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered vacuum.
  • Eat healthy foods with calcium, iron, and vitamin C to limit the amount of lead getting into your body.
  • Always wash your hands before eating to keep from accidentally swallowing lead dust.
  • Grow fruits and vegetables in raised beds.
  • Keep paint in good repair; fix chipping or cracked paint right away, and consider hiring a certified lead professional to test your home and help with home repairs and renovation in houses built before 1978. Visit the Paint & Dust page to learn more.

If you're worried about lead in your drinking water:

  • Use an NSF-certified filter and only use cold water for drinking or cooking.
  • Run your water before using it for drinking or cooking (also called flushing your lines).
  • Visit the Drinking Water page to learn more.

If you have a job or hobby that uses lead:

  • Wear the right protective equipment.
  • Wash your 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.
  • Visit the Jobs & Hobbies page to learn more.

If you use imported goods or foods:

  • Pay attention to recalls that are caused by lead.
  • Throw away any recalled household items or food.
  • Visit the Household Items & Imported Goods page to learn more.

Additional resources for lead and your health