Frequently Asked Questions


How does lead affect human health?

Lead particles can be ingested or inhaled posing serious threats to human health. In adults, the primary cause of lead poisoning is due to inhalation of lead dust. Lead enters the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body. If not detected early enough, both children and adults are at risk. Symptoms of lead poisoning vary depending on the blood lead level. Low levels of exposure to lead can cause memory and concentration problems, muscle and joint pain, and can affect nervous system function. High levels of lead exposure have been associated with nerve disorders, digestive problems and in extreme cases, death. However, it is important to remember that many individuals show no outward signs of lead poisoning. An individual may have an elevated blood lead level even if they appear healthy and show no signs of lead poisoning.

What are some symptoms of lead poisoning?

Early Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Later Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Does lead affect everyone equally?

Lead does not affect everyone equally. Individuals at highest risk for lead poisoning are those exposed to lead through occupational means or hobbies, fetuses, and children up to six years of age, considered the at-risk age group for lead poisoning.

Young children, infants, and fetuses absorb more lead than adults. A small amount of lead that may have little effect on an adult can have a large effect on a child who is still growing and developing. If a child is overexposed to lead it can cause disastrous consequences including the possibility of irreversible brain and nervous system damage. Even children who appear healthy can have lead poisoning. If you think your child or other family members may be at risk, contact your physician or local health department for testing.

Pregnant women should be especially cautious of lead exposure. The presence of lead dust can cause difficulties during pregnancy. Lead enters the bloodstream and can pass the placental barrier from the mother to the unborn child. The fetus can be poisoned before birth.

What does my blood lead level mean?

Management guidelines for blood lead levels in adults differ significantly from management guidelines for blood lead levels in children. In adults, a blood lead level greater than or equal to 25 µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) is considered elevated. However, the majority of adults have blood lead levels less than 3 µg/dL. In children, any blood lead level at or above 10 µg/dL is considered elevated. The difference in elevated levels between children and adults is largely attributed to the fact that children are still growing and developing and a small amount of lead that may have little effect on an adult can be detrimental to a child’s health.

Blood Lead (µg/dL)

Action Necessary

<10

No action needed

10-24

Identify and minimize lead exposure

25-49

Remove from exposure if symptomatic
Monitor blood lead and zinc protoporphyrin

50-79

Remove from work with lead. Immediate medical evaluation indicated. Chelation not indicated unless significant symptoms due to lead poisoning

>=80

Same as above. Chelation may be indicated if symptomatic. Important to consult on individual case basis

Management guidelines adopted from the California Department of Health Services, Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch & Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

What should I do if I have an
elevated blood lead level?

A portion of lead is excreted from the body through body fluids. The remainder is stored in the bones and is virtually impossible to remove once it has settled in the skeletal system. There are a number of methods available to increase the portion of lead excreted from the body through body fluids.

  • Eat small frequent meals rather than three large meals each day. A full stomach makes it difficult to absorb lead.
  • Eat a diet high in calcium and iron and low in fat. Some recommended foods that meet this requirement are:

Foods high in calcium

Foods high in iron

Milk
Yogurt
Cheese
Meats
Eggs
Fruit
Nuts
Rice/pasta
Cereal/bread
Broccoli
Green leafy vegetables
Dried beans

Beef
Pork
Veal
Lamb
Oysters
Liver
Spinach
Dried figs/raisons
Poultry
Dried beans
Dried peas
Cereal/bread fortified with iron

 

Bureau of Environmental Health
Curtis State Office Building

1000 SW Jackson, Suite 330
Topeka, KS 66612-1274
Phone: 1-866-865-3233
FAX: (785) 296-5594
BEH@kdheks.gov