Melissa Magstadt, South Dakota Secretary of Health

Lead Poisoning (Elevated Blood Lead Levels)

South Dakota Department of Health
(1-800-738-2301 in South Dakota only)

This material is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute
for medical care. We are not able to answer personal medical questions. Please see your
health care provider concerning appropriate care, treatment or other medical advice.

What is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning is an elevated blood lead level (BLL). Lead may take the place of calcium and iron in the bones. Your body has no use for lead and there is no safe blood lead level. The CDC reference value of 5 ug/dL blood lead level or greater is the level of concern. It is not uncommon for people with lead poisoning to show no symptoms. Lead can affect IQ, behavior, and academic achievement. (1)

How do you get lead poisoning?
Lead may enter your body through swallowing or inhaling and in rare cases it can also be absorbed through skin and the mucous membranes of the body. (2) After entering your body the lead may be absorbed into your bloodstream and be distributed throughout your body. Lead based paint is the leading cause of lead exposure in children.

Who is at risk?
Everyone is at risk for high blood lead levels (e.g., greater than 5 ug/dL), but children under the age of six are of the highest concern. Children under the age of six are more likely to eat non-food items such as dirt and lead paint chips (3). Children under the age of six are also likely to climb on or through areas that may be contaminated with lead dust and may grab and bite on window sills which may contain lead paint chips. Food and toys that fall to the floor may also be contaminated with lead dust and should be disposed of or cleaned before being given back to the child. Lead paint is more likely in houses older than 1978, increasing the risk of lead paint chips. Children living in such houses should have a blood lead test every year. For more information on children eating non food items please visit this page:

Answer the following questions to find out if your child should get a blood lead test:

  • Does your child live in or regularly visit a house/building built before 1978?
  • Does your child live in or regularly visit a house/building with peeling or chipping paint, or with recent or ongoing renovation or remodeling?
  • Has your child ever lived outside of the United States or recently arrived from a foreign country?
  • Does your child live with or often visit another child that has/had a high blood lead level?
  • Does your child frequently put non-food items in his/her mouth such as toys, jewelry, or keys?
  • Does your child live with someone whose job or hobby involves lead? (Note: Jobs include house painting, plumbing, renovation, construction, auto repair, welding, electronic repair, jewelry or pottery making. Hobby examples include making stained glass or pottery, fishing, making or shooting firearms, and collecting lead or pewter figurines.)
  • Does your child live near an active lead smelter, battery recycling plant, or other industry working with lead?
  • Does your family use products from other countries such as health remedies, spices, or food, or store/serve food in leaded crystal, pottery, or pewter?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you should have a blood lead test to find out if you or your child has a high blood lead level. (4)

Should adults be concerned with their blood lead levels?
Adults who work with lead on the job and their children are also at a high risk. Follow proper housekeeping procedures to prevent lead from entering food within your household and in child's play areas.

Homes that are being remodeled may also cause occupants to be at risk. Homes older than 1978 may contain lead paint that may escape into the air as lead dust or on the ground as lead paint chips if it is not properly removed. Research proper housekeeping procedures before removing any paint from any surface of a house older than 1978. Consider consulting a lead paint remediation inspector/specialist before removing any paint.

Unborn children may be exposed to the blood lead level and the bone lead of the mother. To protect the unborn child, mothers should be careful to protect themselves and their baby from lead before birth and during breastfeeding.

Hunters should careful to remove lead pellets or bullets and any possible fragments from the meat of the animal before preserving, freezing, or processing the meat. Pellets or bullet fragments in contact with the meat for an extended period of time can allow lead to leach into the meat and contaminate it. Take extra care when grinding the meat to make sure lead bullets are not ground into fragments further distributing the lead throughout the meat. (5)

When should children be tested?
Every child should be initially tested at the ages of 1 and 2 years old. (6) If your child is tested and found with a blood lead level greater than 5 ug/dL, talk to your doctor to develop a retesting schedule based on the type of sample collected and the result to see if the blood lead levels are going up or down. Children should be tested every year until the age of 6 to ensure that they do not have a blood lead level greater than 5 ug/dL.

Children should also be retested when a playmate or sibling is tested and found to have lead in their blood or when the family moves to a house built before 1978.

How can I lessen lead exposure to my children?
Have your interior paint and your water tested for lead. If your house is older than 1978, it may contain lead paint, make sure you use proper housekeeping procedures to limit lead dust that may collect near or on window sills and on the floor. Children who play in these areas may eat or touch lead paint chips and fail to wash their hands properly so it is important these areas be cleaned regularly. Do not try to remove the lead paint without proper information or training. Improper removal of lead paint can actually increase the lead exposure risk within the household.

If you think that your home water may contain lead a simple precaution is to run your cold water tap for a few minutes to let the leaden water clear the pipes before you fill a glass of water. (4)

Regularly check the Consumer Safety Product Commission (CSPC) recalls list to ensure no toys or jewelry your child owns has been recalled due to a lead issue.

If you work in a profession that exposes you to lead make sure that you regularly preform proper housekeeping procedures to reduce the amount of lead entering your household, especially where children play.

What are proper housekeeping procedures? (7)

  • Check your windows and doors for any flaking paint, if you find flaking paint do not remove it without following proper lead remediation procedures.
  • Wash often fabrics and toys that may be contaminated with lead dust or that a child places in their mouth.
  • Sweep, wet mop, and dust regularly to reduce dust on floors and window sills which are the most likely locations for lead dust to collect.
  • Use floor mats or boot brushes outside the house to remove lead laden soil from shoes before entering your house. Remove your shoes when you are in your house.
  • Wash your hands and face before eating to prevent accidentally eating lead dust.
  • Replace exposed soil areas with grass or shrubs to prevent children from playing in or eating dirt in your yard.

Is my child's diet important to reducing lead uptake?
A healthy diet can reduce the uptake of lead in your body. On a full stomach only 10-20% of ingested lead may be absorbed, whereas on an empty stomach almost 80-90% of the ingested lead may be absorbed into the bloodstream. Eating foods high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C may reduce the chance for lead to be absorbed into the bloodstream. (2) Check out:

What are the symptoms of blood lead poisoning?
Potential symptoms of acute lead poisoning include: (8, 9)

  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Short attention span
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Poor appetite
  • Constipation
  • Behavioral changes
  • Colic
  • Sight and hearing loss
  • Changes in consciousness
  • Convulsions

Should I be concerned with my blood lead level while pregnant?
"Lead that has accumulated in a woman's bones is removed from her bones and passes freely from mother to child; maternal and fetal blood lead levels are virtually identical. Once in the fetal circulation, lead readily enters the developing brain through the immature blood-brain barrier" (3)

Related Sites


  1. What Do Parents Need to Know to Protect Their Children? (2016). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from
  2. Abadin, H., and Llados, F. (1999). Toxicological Profile for Lead.
  3. Childhood Lead Poisoning. (2010). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from
  4. Lead. (2002). Help Yourself to a Healthy Home, 29-32. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  5. The Potential for Ingestion Exposure to Lead Fragment in Venison in Wisconsin. (2008, November 4). Health Consultation. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  6. Preventing lead poisoning in young children. (1991). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from Chapter 6: Screening.
  7. Prevention tips. (2014). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from
  8. Environmental Health and Medicine Education. (2007, August 20).
  9. LEAD. (2013, September 30). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from

Share via: