Melissa Magstadt, South Dakota Secretary of Health

Lead Poisoning FAQs

What is lead?

Lead is a natural metal found in the earth.

What are common sources of lead in the environment?
Lead was often added to products to improve their performance and durability. Lead was added to gasoline until the 1980s to improve the efficiency and performance of engines. Lead-based paint was used in and on homes before 1978. Paint chips, from lead-based paint that peels or cracks, or releases fine dust particles in the soil or in the home. There might be lead in water from water pipes made from lead or lead soldered at the joints. Lead dust can enter your home and car if someone works in jobs such as construction, painting, battery production, and car repair. Hobbies can be a source of lead dust, such as ammunition reloading, fishing with sinkers, and working with stained glass. Consumer products such as spices, pottery, antique dishes, make-up, toys, and many other items can be the source of lead. Learn more.

What causes childhood lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning can occur when a child is exposed to lead dust from their environment that enters their bodies through their mouth from contaminated hands. Houses built before 1978 might have lead paint, and contaminated air, water, and soil. Children have been known to swallow paint chips or flakes. They can also be exposed to lead through traditional home remedies, jewelry, toys, or hobbies and jobs from parents in lead-related industries.

Who is at risk of developing blood lead poisoning?

Children under the age of six, pregnant women, workers in lead-related industries, and people living in older homes with lead-based paint are at higher risk. Children’s bodies absorb four to five times the amount of lead than adults. Parents concerned about lead exposure should ask their child's doctor about blood lead testing. South Dakota Department of Health recommends the following criteria to help determine if your child should get a lead test. Learn more.

How can lead affect my child?

Children may have lead poisoning and do not look or act sick. Lead affects almost every organ and system in a child’s growing body. Very small amounts of lead can affect their still-developing brains and other parts of their nervous system. Some late symptoms of lead poisoning include slow growth and development, damage to hearing and speech, behavior problems, learning disabilities, weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain.

How do I know if my child has lead in his or her blood?

A blood test is the only way to find out if your child has been exposed to lead. There are two types of blood tests that are used – capillary (from a finger stick) and venous (from a blood vessel in the arm).

What do my child’s test results mean?
There is no safe level of lead in a child’s body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have set a reference value of 3.5 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter). If your child has a blood lead level of 3.5 ug/dL or greater, your medical provider will monitor your child with an additional blood test.

My doctor told me my child has a blood lead level of less than 45 ug/dL. Should I get medicine for this?

There is no medical treatment for blood lead levels below 45 ug/dL. The only treatment is to prevent and decrease exposure to lead through diet, good hygiene, and removing the source of lead hazards.

My child has a blood lead level of 45 ug/dL or higher. What type of treatment is available?

Chelation therapy treatment might be an option; it is often used to remove lead from the body in severe cases of blood lead poisoning. Talk with your healthcare provider to help determine the next steps. You can also contact the South Dakota Poison Center or call 1-800-222-1222.

What changes can I make to my child’s diet?
Provide meals that are rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Good nutrition can help reduce the amount of lead a child absorbs in their body. Learn more.

Should other people in my home be tested?

Siblings, playmates, and other children who may spend time with you and your family, should be tested. If you are pregnant ask your medical provider to test you. If you work with lead or have a hobby with lead components talk to your doctor and ask to be tested.

How do I protect my child from lead?

Remove the lead source and look out for lead hazards. This means keeping children away from lead paint, the dust that comes from lead-based paint breaking down, and not taking lead home with you from jobs and hobbies.

  • Wash hands, toys, and pacifiers frequently
  • Keep children away from lead paint and dust
  • Have your home tested for lead and renovate it safely
  • Test for potential lead contamination in soil or water
  • Avoid imported foods and candies
  • Don’t allow children to mouth keys, toys, and jewelry.
  • Do not use recalled products and toys.
  • If you have a hobby that involves lead, be sure to change your clothing and wash your hands thoroughly before touching your child.
  • If you work with lead, follow your company’s lead hazard program and practice personally before going into your car and home.

Can lead affect my unborn child?
Lead stored in your body can be released from your bones and passed to your unborn child. Possible effects on your unborn child may include:

  • Damage to the developing brain and organs
  • Slowed growth and development.
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Being born too soon
  • Miscarriage

To learn more, see CDC’S Factsheet: Are You Pregnant? (

What is being done about childhood lead exposure?

The South Dakota childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (SD CLPPP) cooperative agreement with the CDC contributes toward eliminating childhood lead exposure as a public health problem. The Program provides lead exposure prevention education and support to the families of children exposed to lead. The Program also maintains surveillance data of blood lead results on children younger than six. Using this data, SD CLPPP can develop and evaluate current efforts to prevent lead poisoning across the state. Data findings will be used to inform medical and health professionals on testing, reporting, and case management. Data collected can help to update outreach activities and educational materials for parents, educators, and health professionals. Visit here for educational material and resources.

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