Keeping Your Family Safe From Lead

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension image

  Most individuals think of the hazards from lead poisoning as being something from the past. After all, we stopped using lead in house paints in1978, and in gasoline and drinking-water pipes in the 1980’s. However the remnants of our past can still be found and new products containing lead are being produced and entering the marketplace.  

  Lead poisoning is one of the most serious health threats for children in and around the home. If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from: damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity), delayed growth, hearing problems, and headaches. Children 6 years old and younger are most at risk because their bodies are growing quickly and they tend to put more things into their mouths.

  When exposed to elevated lead levels, adults can also suffer from: difficulties during pregnancy, other reproductive problems (in both men and women), high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.

  Lead-based paint is a hazard if it is peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking. Even surfaces that have been covered with new paint or another covering can expose older lead-based paint layers when they become cracked or chipped. The older your home is, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint. Household dust can also become contaminated when painted surfaces bump or rub together.

  Soil can become contaminated when exterior lead-based paint from buildings flake, peel and gets into the soil. Soil near roadways may also be contaminated from past use of leaded gasoline in cars.

  Older plumbing fixtures, such as faucets, lead pipes, and pipes connected with lead solder, can contaminate drinking water. The only way to know if your water is safe is to have it tested.

  Newer lead containing items that have been found on the market are: folk remedies such as “Greta” and Azarcon, glazes on dishes, garden hoses, children’s lunch boxes made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), to name just a few.

   Since your child can have elevated lead levels and not appear sick the only way to know is to test. A simple blood test will make the determination and either the Health Department or your family physician can perform the test.

·        If your child is at risk of lead exposure, have your child tested at the age of 6 months. Repeat the test every 6 months until the age of 2 years. After that, have the child tested once a year until age 6.

·        If your child is not at risk of lead exposure, have the child tested for the first time at the age of 1 year, and again at age 2.


The lead Poisoning Prevention Program at UNC – Asheville conducts free home lead inspections where pregnant women and/or children ages 6 or younger live. For more information on home inspections contact Adrianne Weir at 251-6104 or

For additional information on lead contact Nancy Ostergaard at 255 -5522 or