Reducing Your Lead Exposure

  • General Information
  • Common Sources
  • Health Effects
  • Gardening Tips
  • Reducing Exposure
  • For More Information

Lead is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around homes. Lead also can be emitted into the air from motor vehicles and industrial sources, and lead can enter drinking water from plumbing materials.

Most Common Sources of Lead Poisoning

  • Deteriorating lead-based paint
  • Lead contaminated dust
  • Lead contaminated residential soil

Health Effects

People become exposed to lead by breathing air with high lead concentrations or by ingesting food, water, paint, soil, or dust containing lead. Children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning because it takes smaller amounts to damage their bodies than it does for adults, and children are more likely to put dirt, paint chips, and other lead-based materials in their mouths.  

Lead may cause a range of health effects including learning, hearing, and behavioral problems.   Lead can affect practically all systems within the body. At high levels, it can cause convulsions, coma, and other serious conditions. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells.

The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems. Fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults since lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies, and the tissues of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. 

Lead poisoning usually occurs without any obvious symptoms- the only way to know if you or your child has lead poisoning is a blood test.  It is recommended that children under six years of age are tested annually.

Gardening In Soil That May Be Contaminated

It is a possibility for lead to get into your body by eating certain vegetables grown in soil that contains lead.  When you grow vegetables, you can lower the amount of lead that gets into your body by taking some simple steps:

  • Clean vegetables well before cooking or eating
  • Avoid planting root crops (ex: carrots, potatoes) in contaminated soils- try using raised beds or containers.
  • Add peat moss, compost or maure to soil; keep soil pH at 6.5 or higher; and cover all bare soil in the carden with 2-4 inches of lead-free mulch.
  • Do not grow vegetables in the drip zone of your roof shingles.
  • Avoid growing vegetables near the foundations of older buildings that may be painted with lead paint.

Steps to Reduce Exposure

  • Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.  If necessary, provide children with a sandbox as an alternative to playing in contaminated soil.
  • Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
  • Do not remove lead paint yourself.
  • Do not bring lead dust into the home.
  • If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.

For more information on lead, visit the following websites: