Lead is one of the most serious and preventable environmental hazards faced by young children, especially those under six years of age. Many lead hazards still exist in homes and the environment, including but not limited to, interior and exterior paint, folk remedies, older plumbing, glazed ceramics, vinyl mini-blinds, chalk, certain imported candies, and chicken eggs from poultry exposed to contaminated soils or feed. Typically, lead-based paint chips and lead-contaminated dusts are the most common source of lead exposure to young children. Homes built before 1978 have the highest risk of containing lead-based paints and other potential hazards; older homes with areas in need of repair and/or undergoing remodeling without appropriate precautions increases the likelihood of childhood exposure to high levels of lead.
When exposed to lead, young children do not show obvious signs of illness unless the amount of lead in their body becomes very high. However, low levels of lead may cause delays in mental and physical development. While these delays may not be visible when the child is young, they may dramatically affect the child's future. There are medical treatments for lead poisoning, but these can have serious side effects and are not recommended unless the child's exposure is very high. For these reasons, it is critical to identify and appropriately address potential sources of lead to prevent children from being exposed to lead hazards and have children at risk for exposure tested for lead by a health care provider. Foods suspected of lead contamination may be tested by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, (800) 442-4618 or (608) 224-6202. Public Health Madison & Dane County's lab offers testing for lead in paint, varnish and water.