Childhood Lead Poisoning


The harmful effects of childhood lead exposure can be prevented. The key is to keep children from coming in contact with lead.

Lead in paint, soil, air, or water is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, including

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Hearing and speech problems

There are many ways that parents can reduce children’s exposure to lead before they are harmed. Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be identified and controlled or removed safely.

How are children exposed to lead?

Children can be exposed to lead in many ways, but most exposure happens when children put things into their mouths while playing. Lead was used in house paint until 1978, and any house built before that year could have lead paint. Chips from this paint can be ingested or ground into dust, which can be eaten or breathed in. Lead can also be found in soil, water, and certain items that come from other countries. Many children with lead poisoning have no signs at first, which makes it hard to diagnose and treat their poisoning early.

Even small amounts of lead can cause learning and behavior problems in children. Lead replaces iron and calcium and affects many parts of the body, especially the nervous system. Lead is most harmful to children under the age of six, because a child’s growing body takes up lead easily. Lead can also be dangerous to a baby during pregnancy.  Problems related to lead poisoning can last the child’s whole life.

How do I get my kids tested for lead?

There is no “safe” level of lead in the blood – any confirmed level is an indication that the person has been exposed.  These requirements apply to all children in Ohio under the age of six years.  Guidance was changed at the end of 2021 that children with levels above 3mcg/dL should be monitored.

Testing for lead can be done at your primary care doctor’s office.  Children should be tested at age 1 and 2 years, or up to 6 years if no previous test has been done, based on the following criteria:

  • If the child is on Medicaid, he/she must be tested according to Ohio and Medicaid Rules.
  • If the child resides in a high-risk zip code he/she must be tested according to Ohio law.
  • High-risk zip codes in Williams County: 43517, 43543, 43506

What are the risk factors for lead exposure?

Home Risk Factors

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, please consider having your home tested for lead:

  • Are there visible paint chips near the house (pre-1978), fences, garages, or play structures?
  • Is your home located near a lead-producing industry (battery plant, smelter, radiator repair shop, etc.)?
  • Is your home located near buildings or structures that are being renovated, repainted, or demolished?

Water Risk Factors

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, please consider having your water tested for lead:

  • Does your home use well water that has not previously been tested for lead?
  • Do you use water from the tap as soon as it is turned on? (letting the water run will clear the pipes of water that is most likely to contain lead)
  • Is tap water used to prepare infant formula, powdered milk, juices, or foods?
  • Does your home have lead pipes or lead solder in the plumbing?

Child Behavior Risk Factors

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, please consider having your child tested for lead:

  • Does your child put painted objects or surfaces (toys, painted cribs, window sills, furniture edges, railings, door moldings, or broom handles) into his/her mouth?
  • Does your child play in soil or put soil in his/her mouth?
  • Does your child put soft metal objects (toys, jewelry, fishing sinkers, etc.) in his/her mouth?
  • Does your child put printed material (newspapers, magazines) in his/her mouth?

Other Household Risk Factors

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, please consider having your child tested for lead:

  • Does your family use products from other countries such as herbal medicines, health remedies and cosmetics?
    • Examples include Azogue, Alkohl, Azarcon, Bali goli, Ghasard, Greta, and Pay-loo-ah.
  • Does your family use any food containers that are made from metal; pewter; homemade or imported ceramics; or leaded crystal?
  • Is there a pet that could track dirt or dust in from the outside?

What are sources of lead exposure?

Deteriorating lead-based paint and its resulting lead dust are the most common causes in Ohio.  However, there are a number of other potential sources of lead exposure besides lead-based paint:

  • Cosmetics containing lead
  • Foods containing lead
  • Hobbies that use lead-based materials
  • Occupations that involve exposure to lead
  • Soil contaminated with lead
  • Toys containing lead such as lead-based paint
  • Water with elevated lead levels

How can I prevent lead poisoning?

Most children with lead poisoning do not show signs and symptoms right away. The only reliable way to know if your child has been exposed to lead is to get them tested.

Take these steps to prevent your child from being exposed to lead in your home/environment:

  • Wash your child’s hands and toys, as well as their bottles, pacifiers, and any other items your child often puts in his or her mouth.
  • Regularly clean floors, windowsills, and dusty places with wet mops or wet cloths to pick up any dust. Use two buckets – one for soap and one for rinsing. Never use a home vacuum cleaner to clean up suspected lead hazards, even if it has a HEPA filter.
  • You can rent a professional-grade HEPA Vacuum that can safely be used to clean up suspected lead hazards. We have a HEPA Vacuum available to loan out to Williams County residents.
  • Use only cold tap water for making baby formula, drinking, and cooking. Let the water run for a few minutes before you use it.
  • Avoid certain products from other countries, such as health remedies, eye cosmetics (e.g. kohl, kajal, surma), candies, spices, snack foods, clay pots and dishes, painted toys, and children’s jewelry.
  • Remove shoes before entering your home.
  • Remove work clothes before entering the house, for any person living in the home who does construction or other work that may involve lead. Wash these clothes separately from other items.
  • Look out for peeling paint in houses built before 1978 (when lead was banned in house paint). If you rent your home, report it to your landlord so that repairs can get made (and call code enforcement or a legal aid society if there is no response). If you own your home, repair it safely. To find out more about repairing peeling paint safely, check out this resource.
  • Be careful during renovations. Keep your child away from renovation or maintenance work that disturbs paint, and make sure no paint chips or dust remain in the work area before your child enters. If you hire someone to conduct renovation, repairs, or painting in a home built before 1978, make sure that they are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to perform lead work.

Get professional help with screening your home for hazards and making repairs.  A lead risk assessment will tell you if you have hard-to-find hazards such as lead dust, lead in bare soil, or lead in your water to prioritize any repairs you can have done. A lead-based paint inspection will tell you where the lead-based paint is in your home so you know the places (such as windows, doors, trim, porches, and other locations) to maintain and avoid disturbing. An abatement contractor knows how to eliminate hazards identified by either type of evaluation.  Visit ODH’s Lead Licensure Program page for more information on finding a local professional.

Should my child be tested?

The best way to know if your child has an elevated blood lead level is to have their blood tested for lead.  Most children with lead poisoning do not show any immediate signs or symptoms. Talk to your doctor about getting your child tested for lead.

Children should be tested at age 1 and 2 years, or up to age 6 if no previous test has been done, based on the following criteria:

  • If your child is on Medicaid, your child must be tested.
  • If your child resides in Williams County high-risk ZIP codes of 43517, 43543, and 43506, then he/she must be tested.
  • If the answer is “yes” or if you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, test your child:
    • Does your child live in or regularly visit a home, child care facility, or school built before 1950?
    • Does your child live in or regularly visit a home, child care facility, or school built before 1978 that has deteriorated paint?
    • Does your child live in or regularly visit a home built before 1978 with recent, ongoing, or planned renovation/remodeling?
    • Does your child have a sibling or playmate that has or did have lead poisoning?
    • Does your child come in frequent contact with an adult who has a lead-related hobby or occupation?
    • Does your child live near an active/former lead smelter, battery recycling plant, or other industry known to generate airborne lead dust?

My child has a high lead result. Now what?

Any exposure to lead is potentially harmful for your child. Ohio uses the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to define an “elevated” blood lead level:

3.5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).

Ask your doctor for the specific result of your child’s last blood test.

  • If the number is lower than 3.5 ug/dL, this is not considered an elevated blood lead level. Your doctor will probably not recommend another lead test immediately. They may decide to test your child again if any of the child’s risk factors change, or as he/she grows and develops new habits.
  • If the number is 3.5 ug/dL or higher, testing should be repeated to confirm the child’s blood lead level and to monitor it over time. Having blood drawn from your child’s vein is more accurate than a finger stick test. Make sure other children under 6 years of age, developmentally delayed children, and pregnant women in the household get tested as well.

What happens after a high test result?

All blood lead tests for Ohio children are sent to the Ohio Department of Health. If your child has a confirmed blood lead test with a level of 3.5 µg/dL or higher while less than six years old, a public health nurse from the health department will reach out to provide educational materials and answer questions that you may have.

If the elevated blood lead level is 10 µg/dL or greater, the Ohio Department can provide a home assessment to try and identify the location of the lead in your home.

Ohio Early Intervention (EI) is a system of coordinated services for children younger than age 3. If your child has an elevated blood lead level of 5 or more micrograms per deciliter, your child is automatically eligible for EI and will be referred for EI services by the Ohio Department of Health. After the referral is made, you will be contacted by a “Help Me Grow” central intake representative, who will ask if you want to move forward with Early Intervention services. Early Intervention professionals help you and your child identify strengths and needs and address concerns as early as possible, with services in the community where you and your child live, play, and spend your day. Early Intervention services can support families with children with elevated blood lead levels by:

  • Connecting you to resources to get rid of lead and find safe housing.
  • Supporting your family in improving the natural learning environment where your child lives and plays.
  • Helping you manage your child’s behaviors and physical health concerns.
  • Supporting your child’s healthy nutrition, hygiene, development, and learning needs.

Helping you find pre-K or other services when your child transitions out of Early Intervention.

How do I know if a home has lead hazards before I move in?

Some houses have been identified as hazardous and have not had the lead sources removed.  As they are a hazard to the public, a database of these homes in Ohio is available here.

More Resources

Call 1-877-LEADSAFE (532-3723) for more information about childhood lead poisoning and precautions for home renovation work.

Visit the Ohio Department of Health website 

Housing Resources

Visit the Environmental Protection Agency website

Visit the National Center for Healthy Housing website

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website 

Call Legal Aid at 1-888-534-1432 to learn about your rights as a renter to try and resolve housing conditions that may be contributing to lead in the home.

Contact: Montpelier Office

310 Lincoln Avenue
Montpelier, Ohio 43543
Phone: 419-485-3141