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Blood Lead

What is lead and why is it harmful?
Lead is a naturally occurring element that people have used for centuries.  A soft metal, bluish-gray in color, lead has no characteristic taste or smell.  Lead is also a highly toxic heavy metal poison.  There is no use for lead in the human body.  Lead affects the brain and vital organs and is especially harmful to children and to adult reproductive systems.  Human activities have spread lead widely throughout the environment, most notably in leaded gasoline and leaded paint, both of which have been restricted in the US.  Other products expose adults to lead daily at work and home.  Efforts continue to limit the use of lead containing products and minimize harmful effects on people.  Once lead gets into your body, it can stay there for a long time.  Lead can build up in your body if you are in contact with even a small amount of lead for a long time.  The more lead in your body, the more likely that harm will occur.

How does lead get into your body?
Most human exposure to lead occurs through breathing or eating.  Most adult exposures are occupational and occur in lead-related industries such as lead smelting, refining, metal working and manufacturing industries.  One frequent source of exposure is home renovation that involves scraping, remodeling, or otherwise disturbing lead-based paint.  Exposure can also happen during certain hobbies and activities where lead is used.  Workers may inhale lead dust and lead oxide fumes, as well as eat, drink, and smoke in or near contaminated areas, thereby increasing their probability of lead ingestion.  It only takes a very small amount, for instance in dust or fumes, to poison a human. 

What is a blood lead level?
Blood lead levels show the amount of lead circulating in the blood stream, not the amount of lead stored in the body.  Blood lead levels do not show either the current, or cumulative effects of lead on a person's body.  Blood lead levels are reported in micrograms per deciliter of whole blood.  The standard elevated blood lead level for adults' set by the Center for Disease Control is 25 micrograms per deciliter of whole blood.  This level recognizes that every adult has accumulated some lead contamination.  The level for a child is much lower, currently it is 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood.

How is a blood lead level obtained?
     A blood lead level is obtained through a blood lead test.  In a lead test, a blood sample is taken from a child or adults finger or arm.  The test measures how much lead is in the blood.  Blood taken from the finger is called a capillary sample and blood taken from the arm is called a venous sample.  A venous sample is a more accurate measure.  If you have an elevated lead level through a capillary sample, you should have a second test through a venous sample.

When should a person be tested for lead?
The Health Department routinely obtains a lead test on all one year olds.  It is recommended that children be tested again at age 2 and 3.  Adults can be tested at anytime.  It is recommended that all adults working in high risk occupations such as auto body repair, battery manufacturing, construction/remodeling, lead soldering, plumbing, ceramics, salvage and scrap metal recycling, welding and smelting be tested  If a blood lead level comes back elevated we will retest after three months.  If the level has not gone down we recommend a venous sample.

On April 9, 2010 the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Prevention Program officially implements revised regulations which include the adoption of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rules.  To find out how this effects you click here.

What does my child's blood lead level mean?
     A blood lead level of 10 or more is not safe.

  • Most children will not look or act sick

  • The doctor may give your child iron.  Talk to your nurse or doctor about learning or development problems

  • It is important to find and fix lead hazards in your home.  Have your home tested for lead

If your child's lead level is over 25 they may have lead poisoning.

How is lead poisoning treated?
     There are different types of medical treatment for lead poisoning (a level of 25 or more).  A doctor may give a child iron medicines to remove the lead from the blood.  If your child has an elevated level this may be helped with diet.  Eating good foods with iron will help protect them from poisoning by preventing the lead from being absorbed into the body.  Foods rich in iron include beef, turkey, green vegetables, beans, dried peaches, apricots, iron-fortified cereal and whole wheat breads.  It is also important to provide foods high in vitamin C to help the body absorb more iron.  Examples of foods high in vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower.  The calcium in milk and other dairy foods can also help prevent lead from being absorbed into the body.  Children need 2 to 3 servings of milk or other dairy foods each day.

What other things can be done to prevent high lead levels or lead poisoning?   

  • Always wash your children's hands before they eat to wash off any lead dust

  • Keep areas clean where your child lives, plays, eats and sleeps

  • Keep your children from putting things that may contain lead in their mouths

  • Wash all toys, pacifiers, and other things that your children may put in their mouths

  • Throw away food that has fallen on the floor or ground

  • Water from faucets may have lead in it.  Let your water run for at least 30 seconds before you use it for drinking or cooking.  Do not use hot tap water for cooking or drinking

  • Some imported pottery, china, crystal and handmade ceramics have lead.  Use only lead-safe utensils for cooking or storing food and drink

  • Do not give your children lead-containing folk medicine powders, such as greta and azarcon

  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in lead-contaminated work areas

  • Wear protective equipment over your clothing whenever you work with lead


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