just the facts


Lead Poisoning. The who, what, where, how and why.

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning occurs when there is too much lead in the body. Lead can be ingested into the body in a variety of different ways - including soil, pesticides, drinking water, paint, dust and many, many others. Lead can enter the body by either eating, drinking or breathing in lead particles. The results can have a negative effect on the body. Because of this, it is important to do as much as possible to prevent lead from entering the body. Visible symptoms include stomach aches, vomiting, poor appetite, or nausea.

Lead poisoning is preventable. Children are especially prone to lead poisoning but may not exhibit symptoms. This is why it is important to see your doctor for regular check-ups, especially for children under the age of 6.

Where might lead be?

Lead can potentially be found in soil, pesticides, drinking water, paint and dust. You mustn't forget that lead can also appear in other places besides the ones highlighted. In reality, it can be anywhere.

Remember, lead is especially common in:


Lead paint is one of the major sources of lead poisoning. Chipped and peeling paint has the greatest risk of all. Lead paint can be in many places: on windows, doors, stairs, walls, and any other painted surface. Always make sure to wash your hands after coming in contact with these surfaces.


All soil contains some lead. It tends to stay near the top of the soil for years and is especially high in soil that is near industrial areas, highways, and around houses painted with lead based paint. In other words, exposure to lead is more likely to occur in city areas than in rural areas.

Drinking Water

Lead can enter the drinking water through plumbing fixtures in your house. The lead around pipes can dissolve into the water. However, lead in drinking water alone has not been linked to an unsafe amount in the body. It is when the lead in drinking water is combined with other sources, that it can become a problem.

Other Sources

Remember, these are not the only ways that you can be exposed to lead. Although it is usually found in dust, it can also be in some pesticides, paint, soil...it can be anywhere!

How can you prevent lead poisoning?

Get Tested

The main way to prevent lead poisoning is by getting tested for lead frequently. It is the only way to learn if you have too much lead in your body. You should be tested even if you seem healthy, because once again, you may not show any symptoms. Children should be tested at 6 - 12 months of age, and then each year until the age of 6.

Don't Forget to Eat Your Vegetables

Your diet can also help protect you from lead poisoning. You can do this by making sure you eat three good meals a day. Your stomach absorbs more lead when it's empty. You should eat food that are high in iron and calcium because this protects the body from lead. Foods that are either high in calcium or iron include dairy products, green vegetables and lean meats. Also avoid fatty foods because these foods that are high in fat increase lead absorption, and are often called, "lead magnets."

Always Tidy Up

Keeping things clean always helps. Use a wet mop and wet dust places frequently (about once a week). Mop and dust floors, walls, ceilings, windows. Basically, it never hurts to be too clean, especially if you feel there may be lead present.

Unleaded Only

It is important to do as much as possible to keep lead out of your house. You can do this by taking your shoes off before you enter the house. This way, you can help keep potentially lead contaminated dust or soil from getting inside. More importantly, if you know you were exposed to lead, make sure you change and wash your clothes immediately.

Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands often is the most important way to prevent overexposure to lead. It is important to do this, especially if you are planning on eating. This is because the mouth is the primary way by which lead enters the body. It is also very important to try to wash your hands every hour, even if you aren't planning on eating. By doing this, you can reduce the total amount of lead dust that enters the body. And of course, the lower the exposure, the better. So always wash your hands, especially after playing, and always before meals.

Dirt Isn't Food

DON'T EAT DIRT! Remember, eating healthy doesn't include dirt! Because of this, you should always make sure that you wash or peel all fruits and vegetables before eating. Many of these were grown in the ground and could have been exposed to lead. Dirt is a major source of lead because of the high levels found in the soil. So stick to fruits and vegetables and make sure the dirt doesn't.

Parents and physicians: click here for more detailed information



The NJPIES Interactive Lead Learning Center was funded by a generous grant from The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.
© 1999 New Jersey Poison Information and Education System - Emergency Hotline: 1-800-222-1222