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Lead Contamination

Old, lead-based paint is the most significant source of lead exposure in the U.S. today. It can be found on window frames, doors, or on the interior or exterior walls of buildings built before 1978, even if newer paint covers older layers of paint. It can also be found in drinking water from corroded plumbing materials, solder, and tanks that contain lead. The more time water has been sitting in the leaded pipes, the more lead it may contain.

Removing or disturbing lead paint generates dust that can be breathed in or ingested. Removing it requires special training, licenses, and equipment. Abatement procedures must comply with all state and federal regulations, including hazardous waste regulations.

Effects of Lead Exposure

Lead acts as a poison in the body. It can cause acute health effects, such as irritability, abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, constipation, fatigue, and personality changes. Lead also has long term health effects including damage to the reproductive, immune, and nervous systems, including the brain. Lead is also a teratogen which damages a developing fetus and, along with its compounds, is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.

Even very low levels of lead in the blood can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system in children. This may lead to behavior and learning difficulties, lower IQ, and hearing problems, slowed growth, and/or anemia.

How to prevent being exposed to lead in schools?

  • Inquire about any sources of lead in the school.
  • Ensure that sinks and fountains are flushed regularly, if lead is found in the drinking water.
  • Ensure that the school begins a program to remove leaded pipes.
  • If there is lead-based paint that is in good condition, ensure that it is left alone -do not sand, burn off paint or disturb surfaces that may contain lead.
  • Ensure that these surfaces are kept clean and are promptly repaired if paint chips, peels, or flakes.
  • Closely monitor renovation and construction projects in areas where lead-based paint may be found.


The first thing anyone should do in treating all degrees of lead poisoning is to remove the source of the contamination if possible. Sometimes, simply avoiding lead exposure can reduce lead blood levels, but for more serious cases, it is best to go see a doctor!

Additional Resources

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

National Lead Information Center Hotline

  • 1-800-424-LEAD [1-800-424-5323]

Mayo Clinic