Answers to lead health questions

Lead is a type of metal that is found naturally in the earth. It is toxic to humans, and can get into our bodies when we breathe or swallow something that has lead in it or on it. Young children below the age of three are at the greatest risk because their brains are still growing.

Lead was once used in products found in and around homes such as paints, gasoline and lead solder used for plumbing and food cans. It is still used to make batteries, ammunition, devices to shield X-rays and some other things. Lead is put into the environment when burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas and during some mining and manufacturing activities.

    Lead can be found in many places. You can find lead in these places in Colorado:

    • Homes built before 1978 with chipping, peeling, or flaking paint, or imported toys with lead-based paint.
    • Imported spices such as turmeric, coriander, black pepper, thyme, and hanuman sindoor.
    • Imported glazed pottery, commonly used to cook beans or hot chocolate.
    • Home remedies such as greta or azacron used to treat illness or empacho.
    • Soil or dust that contains lead. This can be tracked into the house or it can be where a child plays outside.
    • Hobbies such as hunting and fishing that use lead bullets or fish sinkers, some artist paints and furniture refinishing.
    • Work in industries such as construction, mining, welding or plumbing.
    • Water from pipes in homes built before 1978 can have lead.

    If you think you or your child has lead poisoning, ask your doctor to test your blood for lead.

      No amount of lead in the body is considered safe. Young children below the age of three are at the highest risk because their brains are still growing and they are crawling, teething and putting things in their mouths.

      Lead poisoning usually happens when a child is around small amounts of lead for a long time, but lead poisoning can happen quickly if a something with lead is swallowed, such as a toy or paint chip. Lead can hurt your whole body and can harm young children and babies even before they are born.

      It can be hard to tell if a child is lead poisoned because there may be no signs or the signs may be hard to notice.

      • Harm to the brain and other systems.
      • Speech, behavior and learning problems.
      • Slowed growth.
      • Hearing problems.
      • Digestive problems, loss of appetite.

      Lead poisoning can harm your health for a long time, even into adulthood. If you think that you or your child may have lead poisoning, talk to your doctor. Some low-cost health clinics also provide lead testing.

        If your child is under the age of six, you should talk to your doctor about testing your child for lead if you answer "yes" to any of the following questions:

        • Is the child eligible for Medicaid, Child Health Plan Plus, or Colorado Indigent Care Program?
        • Does the child reside in or regularly visit pre‐1978 homes in poor condition or recently renovated?
        • Does the child reside in or regularly visit pre-1960 homes regardless of condition?
        • Is the child a recent immigrant, refugee, or foreign adoptee?
        • Does the child have a sibling or playmate who has or recently had a confirmed elevated blood lead level?
        • Does the child have a household member who uses traditional, folk, or ethnic remedies or cosmetics, or who routinely eats food imported informally (e.g. by a family member) from abroad?
        • Does the child have a household member who participates in a lead-related occupation or hobby?
        • Do you or the parent suspect the child is at risk for lead exposure or does the child exhibit symptoms of lead poisoning (e.g. pica behavior, developmental delay, known exposure)?

        Your child will have a blood test to find out if they have high levels of lead in their blood. The only way to know if a child has lead poisoning is to have the child tested for lead, because often no signs or symptoms are visible. Some low-cost health clinics also provide lead testing.

        Information for Providers

        Colorado recommends targeted screening for blood lead testing. Colorado guidelines currently recommend that all low-income children in Colorado should be tested for lead at 12 months and 24 months of age, using either a capillary or venous blood specimen. Further risk-based factors are mentioned in our lead screening guidelines.

        Lead screening recommendation resources:

        Guidelines for childhood blood lead case management are provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

        Blood lead levels have been a reportable condition in Colorado since 1997. Under the state’s reporting law, all laboratories performing blood lead tests are required to report the results of those tests directly to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

        Lead poisoning is a preventable disease. There are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family from lead.

        If you live in a house or apartment that was built before 1978, or frequently visit a house that was built before 1978 (for example, grandparents, in-home daycare), there are things you can do right away to keep your young children from getting lead poisoning.

        • Make sure children cannot get to peeling paint or chewable surfaces covered with lead-based paint, such as window sills.
        • If you see any peeling paint chips or dust, clean it up right away. If you rent, let your landlord know of peeling or chipping paint.
        • Wipe down floors and other household surfaces with a damp cloth or mop at least once a week to reduce possible exposure to lead dust. Thoroughly rinse cloths and mops when you are done.
        • Regularly wash children’s hands and toys to remove dust and dirt. Household dust and outdoor dirt can both contain lead.
        • If you work around lead, make sure to change your clothes before entering the house.

        Use only cold water from the tap for cooking, drinking, and mixing baby formula.

        • Lead in tap water usually comes from lead pipes in the house, not from the water supply. Hot water is more likely to pick up lead from water pipes.

        Avoid regularly using products from countries that do not have lead regulations as strict as those in the United States.

        • Some imported food products, such as spices and candies, have been associated with elevated levels of blood lead in children in Colorado. Some toys have been found to have levels of lead that can put a child at risk if the child chews on the toy. These toys are often imported from other countries.
        • Kids safe from toys contaminated with lead.

        Avoid traditional remedies that contain lead.

        • Lead has been found in some traditional (folk) medicines used by East Indian, Indian, Middle Eastern, West Asian, and Hispanic cultures. Azarcon and Greta are traditional Hispanic remedies that are sometimes given to teething babies, and are also used to treat upset stomach. Ba-baw-san is a Chinese herbal remedy used to treat colic pain or to pacify young children. These remedies may contain lead.
        • Lead in traditional medicines from the Centers for Disease Control.

        Adults can also get lead poisoning. Take precautions to protect yourself and your family if you have a job or a hobby that involves lead. Jobs and hobbies involving lead include artists, mechanics, construction workers’ recyclers of metal, electronics and batteries, and firing range instructors or gunsmiths.

        Shower and change your clothes and shoes after finishing an activity that involves working with lead, such as using a firing range or working with stained glass. Children can get lead poisoning from these activities when lead dust is brought into the house.

        The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)  

        Information for providers

        Blood lead levels (BLL) are reportable in Colorado, per Colorado Revised Statute 25-1-122. All laboratories must report elevated adult BLLs to the state. An elevated test for adults (age >18) is considered ≥ 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL). All BLL tests for children are also reportable. Data on elevated BLLs for adults and children of working age (16 and older) is collected and analyzed to:

        • Determine the number of workers in Colorado who may be lead poisoned, what industries they work in, where they live and work and whether they are potentially exposing their families to lead.
        • Track trends in the incidence and prevalence of occupational lead poisoning, share information with the public, health care providers, public health professionals and labor and industry stakeholders.
        • Identify and follow up on elevated blood lead reports to reduce lead poisoning in workers. Many tasks and jobs can expose workers to harmful levels of lead, but making simple changes in the workplace can usually prevent lead poisoning.

        More information

          Targeted lead outreach tool

          The tool consists of three maps that display lead screening rates, housing and poverty risk, and a combination of both. These maps are specifically for population health interventions and outreach, not to determine if specific individuals or households are at risk.

          Colorado Environmental Public Health Tracking

          For children, an elevated blood lead test result has been defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 1991 as 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (10 µg/dL) or higher. Childhood blood lead data available on this website currently display confirmed elevated results at or above 5 µg/dL.

          Recently, CDC recommended adopting a new reference level of 5 µg/dL and identifies this as the level at which steps should be taken to reduce lead exposure in children under age 6. CDC and state EPHT partners are working to determine how best to compile, display and describe childhood blood lead levels from 5 to 10 µg/dL. Once consistent guidelines are developed, Colorado will update the available data to display these results on the Tracking web site. Colorado is also working to compile and display the number of unconfirmed screening tests by county.

          Clinical laboratories are required to report all blood lead test results for children 18 years of age and younger regardless of the test result. For people older than 18, laboratories are required to report test results if they find that the person has an elevated level of lead in their blood. Elevated blood lead for someone over the age of 18 is defined as 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (10 µg/dL) or higher. These blood lead test results must be reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as specified in the regulations.

          Test results are received daily, and elevated results from children are reported to local health agencies on a weekly basis. Local health agencies follow up on reports of elevated lead test results as resources allow. This may include an investigation to determine the source of lead exposure and to recommend actions for stopping the exposure.

          The Colorado Environmental Public Health Tracking program analyzes, summarizes and reports the results of blood lead testing from children less than six years of age. These yearly data are available by county. These data do not tell us how Colorado compares to other states because childhood blood lead testing practices vary between states. Some states recommend universal testing, while others, including Colorado, recommend targeted testing.

          CDC Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) Program

          ABLES data

          The ABLES program is a state-based surveillance program of laboratory-reported adult blood lead levels. The program objective is to build state capacity to initiate, expand, or improve adult blood lead surveillance programs which can accurately measure trends in adult blood lead levels and can effectively intervent to prevent lead over-exposures.