Lead Poisoning FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Lead is a toxic metal that has been used in products for centuries. Lead is still found across South Dakota. Children can get too much lead in their bodies if they are exposed to lead in their environment. When it enters the body, lead can build up and cause damage. Lead exposure can be detected by a blood test from a doctor.

In children, lead can cause learning, behavior, and health problems. No amount of lead is safe. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. Most people with lead poisoning do not have symptoms.

Some symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Lethargy/decreased activity
  • Nausea, Vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability or behavior change

Children are exposed to lead by swallowing or breathing in small amounts of lead. Lead-based paint is the most common source of lead exposure in children. Lead-based paint is found in many homes built before 1978. When lead paint breaks down over time, it creates lead dust that can contaminate the home and can get on children's hands, toys, bottles, and pacifiers. Lead can be found in sources other than lead paint and dust inside a house. These other sources of lead include soil around a house, a parent's occupation, toys and spices, and medicines from other countries.

Children under the age of 6 years old

Young children are most at risk because their bodies are rapidly developing and because they tend to put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths.

Children living in or spending time in homes built before 1978

Lead-based paint was used in homes until it was banned in 1978. The older your home is, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint. Children living in homes built before 1978 and especially built before 1950 are at higher risk for lead exposure.

View an interactive map of the percentage of pre-1950 and pre-1980 homes in South Dakota.

People living in homes built before 1978 undergoing renovation or remodeling

Renovation work in homes with lead paint can create hazardous lead dust. If renovation or lead removal work is not done properly, family members can be exposed to lead.

Pregnant or nursing women

Lead can harm her unborn baby or child. Some pregnant or nursing women at risk for lead exposure may need a lead test.

To learn more about pregnant women and lead exposure, visit the CDC.

Families using products known to contain lead

some spices, cultural products, and medicines have been found to contain lead.

Children with parents who are exposed to lead at work

Parents can take lead home with them on their clothes and shoes and create lead hazards in the home.

Your child's medical providers can perform a blood test to determine the amount of lead. The CDC reference blood lead level is 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) for children, so a blood lead level of 3.5 mcg/dL or higher is considered elevated. If a blood lead test is elevated, more testing will be done to ensure the blood lead level goes down. To get your child tested for lead, ask your child's doctor about blood lead testing.

Blood Lead Testing of Children

  • Capillary or venous blood can be used to test for blood lead screening.
  • All capillary blood lead levels greater than 3.5µg/dL should be confirmed by a second specimen (capillary or venous) within 1-3 months.
  • A single venous blood lead level greater than 3.5µg/dL is considered confirmatory.
  • Children with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 45µg/dL or with symptoms of lead poisoning should have an immediate (within 48 hours) confirmatory test.
    • If confirmed, consult with a medical toxicologist, Poison Center (800-222-1222), or the Rocky Mountain Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (877-800-5554) about evaluation and treatment with chelation therapy.

Parents concerned about lead exposure should ask their child's doctor about blood lead testing. Generally, young children should get a lead screening test around ages 1 and 2 if they meet any of the three criteria below. If your child is 3, 4, or 5 years old, they may need a lead test if they have not already had one.

South Dakota Department of Health recommends the following criteria to help determine if your child should get a 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

The best way to protect children is to prevent lead exposure before they are harmed. The most important step is stopping children from coming into contact with lead. There are many ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead:

  • Have your child visit a doctor and ask about blood lead testing
  • Keep children away from lead paint and lead dust
  • Renovate safely
  • Clean and maintain your home
  • Make sure your child has a healthy diet

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.