What is Lead?

Peeling paint that resembles 'alligator skin' is a sign of lead-based paint.

Lead is a bluish-gray metal that may have a sweet taste. It is often used in products such as paint and water pipes because it makes products more durable and helps prevent corrosion. It also kills mold and mildew, is easy to shape, is strong, blocks radiation and sound, helps paint dry faster, and adds color and brightness to paint. Lead is especially common in homes built prior to 1978.

Why is lead dangerous?

Lead can be harmful to adults, pets, and especially to children. In lower to moderate levels of lead poisoning, lead can:

    • Reduce IQ
    • Cause reading & learning disabilities
    • Cause speech difficulties and delay
    • Cause hearing loss
    • Lead to behavior problems
    • Cause hyperactivity or withdrawal
    • Impair the child's growth

In high levels, lead can even result in coma, seizures, and death.

Has my child been exposed to lead?

There are many potential sources of lead hazards including:

    • Lead dust created when doors, windows, or other painted surfaces rub against each other.
    • Peeling lead based paint (inside or outside), which may look like "alligator skin."
    • Water contaminated with lead from soldering in plumbing.
    • Soil, especially in bare spots, with lead from peeling exterior paint.
    • Numerous other items such as painted toys, batteries, cosmetics and imported items, like candies, ceramics, folk remedies, and keys.

Lead poisoning is caused by swallowing or breathing in lead dust or paint chips. Adults can get lead poisoning, especially through contact with lead in certain jobs or hobbies, or if they disturb lead paint through renovation or remodeling activities. But children 6 years old and younger face the greatest risk, because their bodies easily absorb lead and because they put lots of things into their mouths, some of which may contain lead. Unborn babies can also have lead poisoning if their mother is exposed to lead while pregnant, so expectant mothers should be tested for lead during pregnancy.

Does my child have lead poisoning?

While the long-term effects can be severe, the symptoms of lead poisoning can often be subtle. Symptoms include fatigue, an upset stomach, headaches, irritability, hyperactivity, or constipation. But as these symptoms are fairly common in children without lead poisoning as well, these aren't definite indicators. Further, most often a lead poisoned child will display no symptoms at all!

So how can you really tell if your child has lead poisoning? The only way to know for sure is to get your child tested. To learn about testing your child for lead poisoning, visit the Elkhart County Health Department's Lead Poisoning Prevention Page.

Also, if you live in a house built before 1978, it is important to get your home tested for lead hazards. If your house does have lead, do not attempt to renovate the house yourself, as it is dangerous to disturb lead in the home. Call Environmental Health at 971-4600 for more information on how to renovate your home if it has lead based paint hazards. Also see the lead contractors page for a list of trained lead abatement contractors.