Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects, particularly in young children. Much of the lead in our environment comes from burning fossil fuels, mining and manufacturing. Because of health concerns, lead from gasoline, paints and other products has been dramatically reduced.

Lead Testing in Children

Washtenaw County Health Department offers free blood lead testing for children up to 6 years old with Medicaid or who are uninsured. Please call 734-544-6700 to schedule an appointment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children ages 1 and 2 be screened for lead poisoning. Children who are 3 to 6 years old should be tested for lead if they have not been tested for lead before, and if they:

  • Live or spend time in pre-1978 housing
  • Have a sibling or playmate who has had lead poisoning

If you have questions or concerns about your child's exposure to lead, please contact your pediatrician for a lead blood level test. For questions about children's exposure to lead, please contact Jane Nickert, Public Health Nursing Director, at 734-544-9735.

Health Risks of Lead Exposure

Exposure to excessive levels of lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. The brain and central nervous system are most sensitive, particularly in children. Lead is also particularly damaging to the kidneys, reproductive system, and the immune system. The effects are the same whether it is breathed or swallowed.


A lead-poisoned child may seem healthy or exhibit any of the following signs:

  • Behavior or learning problems
  • Headaches
  • Hearing problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Weight loss

In adults, symptoms can include decreased reaction time, weakness in fingers, wrists or ankles, and possible memory loss.

Sources of Lead Poisoning

People can be exposed to lead in many ways, including:

  • Eating food or drinking water that contains lead.
  • Spending time in areas where lead-based paints are deteriorating. Children are most often poisoned by swallowing lead-based paint chips or lead dust. Lead dust from deteriorating lead-based paint settles to the floor and gets on children’s hands and toys. Lead enters their bodies when they put their hands or toys in their mouth.
  • Working in a job where lead is used.
  • Using folk remedies that contain lead.
  • Engaging in hobbies that use lead-based products (stained glass, ceramics, etc.).
  • Exposure to toys, jewelry or household items that may contain lead.

Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips

To help prevent lead poisoning, keep the following in mind:

  • Do not allow children to chew or mouth painted surfaces that may have been painted with lead-based paint (homes built before 1978).
  • Keep floors, window sills, and other surfaces dust and dirt free.
  • Wash children’s hands and faces often to remove lead dusts and soil.
  • Always use cold tap water for drinking and cooking, and run water for 30 seconds before using it.
  • Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling or renovating.

Washtenaw County Lead Poisoning Prevention Services

  • Child Blood Lead Testing: Washtenaw County Health Department offers free blood lead testing for children up to 6 years old with Medicaid or who are uninsured. Please call 734-544-6700 to schedule an appointment.
  • Drinking Water Testing: We offer testing services for lead in drinking water. A lead test for drinking water costs $17 per sample. Please call Washtenaw County Environmental Health at 734-222-3800 before sampling your water. You will need to obtain a special sampling bottle, and will need to follow specific procedures for each item sampled.
  • Lead Education and Investigation: We provide lead education to the public, and investigate referrals of lead poisoning. Investigations involve testing paint and other items in the home to determine if any of those items contain lead. If lead is present, recommendations for abatement are provided and children are referred for medical treatment if necessary.
  • Our office can no longer accept paint chip samples for lead testing. View a list of certified laboratories who will test paint chips and other items. Please contact the certified laboratories for information about cost and how to safely collect the sample.

Additional Information