Health Education

Elevated Lead Levels

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Lead poisoning is the most common chronic poisoning and environmental illness in the United States. Elevated lead levels are caused by ingestion and inhalation of lead. In the Cleveland area, there is a particularly high incidence of lead exposure as compared to nationwide, especially if you live in a home built before 1978.

As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, we monitor for lead poisoning by obtaining a blood sample at age 1 and age 2. A lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter or greater is considered elevated (or lead poisoning). Nationally, levels of 10 and higher are considered poisoning but in Cuyahoga County, we monitor it more closely. Lead levels less than 5 are considered normal. However, recommendations can be made to reduce lead exposure in the environment with any lead detected in the blood.

Where does lead come from?

Young children are very susceptible to lead because:

  • Children inhale lead: This is the most common way a child is exposed to lead. A child’s body more easily absorbs lead. 100% of lead a child breathes in from lead dust is directly absorbed into his or her blood stream. Lead dust can be found in a child’s home or daycare from deteriorating lead paint, both indoors and outdoors, and can settle on any surface in the home, especially on window sills. Additionally, infants and children are often exploring the house right around the level of where lead dust can be found near the window sills or the floor.
  • Children eat lead: Unfortunately, lead was in paint many years ago. Homes built before 1978 were likely painted, both the interior and exterior, with lead-based paint. This paint over time will chip and paint chips can be found easily by children. Infants and toddlers’ job is to explore the world around them and often put anything they find in their mouth. Lead can also be found in the soil of a home built before 1978 and has been detected easily in the soil throughout the Cleveland area. Food grown in contaminated soil contain lead. Lead can even be found on vintage toys and furniture. Finally, most brass house and car keys contain lead. Children often find our keys a fun toy to play with their hands and in their mouths.

What are the health effects of lead exposure in children?

Elevated lead levels has been linked with behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing impairment and anemia.

What should I do if my child does have an elevated lead level?

First of all, we and the county or city that you reside in will help you in trying to identify the source of the lead exposure. Once the source has been identified, it may be necessary to have a professional remove the lead, depending on the severity. Additional steps you can do to be sure to minimize your child’s exposure to lead include:

  • Wipe down flat surfaces at least once a week with a damp paper towel and then discard the paper towel. Be sure to concentrate on surfaces commonly touched by your child, such has window sills or baseboards. Use a wet mop to dust the floor, ideally a mop that can be then changed or heavily cleaned.
  • Regularly check your home for chipping, peeling or deteriorating paint. Address the issue quickly without excessive sanding.
  • Inspect toys for the presence of lead. See
  • Wash hands and face before eating or after playing outside.
  • Parents who regularly work with lead depending on their job should remove clothing and shower before holding children.

How does my child’s lead level return to normal?

Most levels of lead toxicity can be monitored (with a blood test) until the levels are under 5mg/dL. For mildly elevated levels, simply avoiding lead exposure will gradually decrease the blood lead levels. Significantly high lead levels may require hospitalization with specialized treatments.

Here are few additional resources: