Signs and Symptoms of Lead Poisoning at Home

Worried about the risks and symptoms of lead poisoning in your home?

Over the last few years, the dangers of lead exposure and lead poisoning have become the center of media attention, particularly its effects on young children living in public housing.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning can help you take appropriate action to protect the health and safety of your family.

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead is toxic to humans, even at low levels. It damages cells and interferes with the normal function of almost every organ system, particularly the brain, kidneys, and blood.

Lead poisoning is a type of metal poisoning that results from a buildup of lead in the body. The most common causes of lead poisoning at home include:

  • Lead-based paint (most common in old homes)
  • Drinking water contaminated by lead pipes
  • Contact with lead-contaminated soil
  • Old or imported toys, pottery, and cosmetics
  • Lead dust on work clothes and shoes (from occupations like welding, auto repair, construction)

Who Is at Risk for Lead Poisoning?

Exposure to lead is dangerous for everyone, even pets. However, the threat level is definitely higher if you have young children or pregnant women in the family.

That’s because lead affects the brain and can disrupt its development in children, leading to slowed growth or even intellectual disability. Younger children are also more susceptible to accidentally ingesting lead in the form of lead-contaminated dust or paint chips.

For pregnant women, lead poisoning can lead to serious complications during childbirth, such as premature birth or miscarriage. Lead can also be passed from the mother’s blood to the newborn baby during pregnancy, causing problems with normal growth and development.

Signs of Lead in Your Home

Knowing if there’s lead in your home is the first step towards protecting your family from lead poisoning. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Peeling or chipping paint
  • Old home built prior to 1978 (before lead-based paint was banned in the U.S.)
  • A metallic taste in your mouth
  • Symptoms of lead poisoning (see below)

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Toddlers & Young Children (Under 6)

Young children are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning, especially between the ages of 1 to 6, when kids seem to want to put everything and anything in their mouths.

According to the CDC, “even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.”

Some states like New York require blood lead testing for toddlers at age 1 and age 2. Children with blood lead levels of 3.5 μg/dL or higher are identified as at risk for lead poisoning.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in toddlers and young children include:

  • Slowed growth and developmental delays
  • Difficulty with learning or concentrating
  • Behavioral problems
  • Low IQ
  • Irritability, crankiness, or aggression
  • Poor coordination or difficulty walking
  • Hearing and speech problems
  • Sluggishness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Babies

Lead poisoning in babies results from the mother being exposed to lead during pregnancy. Lead in the maternal blood can pass through the placenta to the developing infant.

The most serious consequence is a higher risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage or stillbirth). Other symptoms of elevated lead levels in babies include:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Pallor (unusual paleness)
  • Stunted growth
  • Cognitive deficiency
  • Persistent vomiting

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Older Children & Adults

Prolonged exposure to lead can also cause a wide range of symptoms in older children (over 6) and adults.

However, lead poisoning in adults can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms develop slowly and many of them are nonspecific — they’re associated with a variety of common conditions.

A blood lead level of 5 μg/dL or higher in older children and adults is considered elevated and at risk of lead poisoning.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness and loss of sensation
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Personality changes
  • Memory loss, confusion, or trouble concentrating
  • Erectile dysfunction and fertility problems
  • Seizures, comas, and death

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

Lead is also toxic to pets, and many of the symptoms of lead poisoning in pets is similar to those in humans.

Accidental lead poisoning in dogs and cats is most commonly a result of ingestion (e.g. licking or chewing items and surfaces containing lead paint). Lead can also be absorbed into an animal’s bloodstream through contact with skin or inhalation of lead-containing dust.

If your dog or cat shows signs of lead poisoning, you should notify your veterinarian as soon as possible. These include:

  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Painful abdomen
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Head pressing
  • Uncoordinated walking (ataxia)
  • Vision problems
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Protect Your Family from Lead Poisoning

If you or a family member shows signs and symptoms of lead poisoning, contact your health care provider and get a blood lead test. This is especially important for children under the age of 6 and pregnant women.

Any sources of lead in your home should be promptly identified and removed. The most common cause of lead exposure is chipping or peeling lead-based paint in older homes.

If you live in an apartment, talk to your landlord about annual lead paint inspections. In New York City, Local Law 1 of 2004 requires landlords to proactively inspect and remove lead paint hazards in apartments — particularly ones where young children reside.

About Green Orchard Group

Green Orchard Group is a leading environmental health and safety firm in New York City. One of our specialties is lead inspection and abatement services:

  • XRF lead paint testing (X-Ray Fluorescence)
  • EPA-certified lead inspection and risk assessments
  • EPA-certified lead abatement
  • Dust wipe clearance testing

If you’re concerned about lead hazards threatening the health and safety of your NYC home or building, call (212) 219-8261 or click the button below to contact us.