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About Lead

Image of the exterior of a house, which shows cracked and peeling paint.

Lead is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment. Although lead can be found in small amounts in the earth's crust, most of it comes from human activities such as manufacturing and mining. In the past, lead was used in gasoline, paint, metals, bullets, and batteries. We now know that lead has many hazardous health effects, and so lead has been banned or significantly reduced in these products.

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. Even at low levels, lead can lower IQ, cause attention disorders, make it difficult for a child to pay attention in school, delay growth, impair hearing, and more.


Sources of Lead Exposure

Deteriorating lead-based paint and its resulting lead dust are the most common causes of elevated blood lead levels in children in Ohio.

There are numerous 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
  • Other sources

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? 
  • Does your child play with or have access to any areas where the following materials are kept?
    • Batteries
    • Candles
    • Coloring pigments
    • Drapery weights
    • Dyes
    • Electronics
    • Epoxy resins
    • Fishing sinkers
    • Fungicides
    • Gasoline
    • Gear oil
    • Lacquers
    • Markers
    • Mini-Blinds
    • Paints
    • Pesticides
    • Pipe sealants
    • Pool cue chalk
    • Putty
    • Shellacs
    • Solder
    • Tire weights

Lead in Water

Though lead in water is not usually the cause of childhood lead poisoning cases in Ohio, we recognize that many people have special concerns about this topic.

Infants who drink formula prepared with lead‐contaminated water are especially at risk because their brains are rapidly developing and because they consume large volumes of formula relative to their body size.

Here are some answers to some commonly-asked questions about lead in water.

How does lead get into my drinking water?

Some parts of the plumbing system may contain lead. These include most faucets, and some solders, fittings, connectors, and pipes. In older homes the service connector pipe from the water main to the home may be made of lead. Drinking water that comes in contact with these materials, which may be present in your home, high rise building, or the city’s water distribution system may be contaminated with lead.

Lead is rarely found in source water (groundwater or surface water) used for drinking water.

What can I do to decrease lead in my drinking water?

Flush your water pipes before drinking or drawing water for cooking by running the water until it reaches the coldest temperature possible. This may take only a few seconds if water use in your home was heavy recently (i.e. showering), or it could take longer than a few minutes if the water sat in the pipes overnight (5 minutes).

Use only the cold‐water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula.

How do I know if my tap water is contaminated with lead?

The only way to know is to test your water. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in water.

Testing the water is especially important for apartment dwellers, because flushing may not be effective in high‐rise buildings.

How do I test my water for lead?

Contact your local health department or water supplier as some provide lead testing at no or low cost. Use a state‐accredited laboratory. You can find one on our Lead Licensure page.

Water test kits available at local hardware stores are NOT recommended by the EPA.

Are faucet or pitcher water filter devices effective at removing lead?

Some faucet‐mounted devices effectively remove both soluble and particulate lead, but most pour‐through water pitcher devices are not effective at removing particulate lead.

You can go to the NSF International website to verify the effectiveness of the system you want to purchase.

Where can I go for more information? 

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1‐800‐426‐4791

US EPA, Health Effects of Lead webpage