Lead Poisoning Prevention

Lead is an invisible threat found throughout our environment.

Lead is a toxic metal that can cause serious health effects. Lead exposure occurs when a person touches, swallows, or breathes in lead or lead dust. The health effects of lead exposure are more harmful to children less than 6 years of age because their bodies are still developing and growing rapidly. And since young children often put their hands or other objects into their mouths, they are more likely to be exposed to lead or lead dust. Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child's health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems. 

The main source of lead poisoning comes from paint in homes built before 1978, but can also come from dust, soil, drinking water from older plumbing, jobs or hobbies that involve lead, and some imported goods. 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. 

Testing for Lead in Blood

Children with lead poisoning usually do not look or act sick. That’s why a blood lead test is the best way to determine if someone has been recently exposed to lead. A blood lead test can tell you if you or your loved ones have recent or ongoing exposures to lead. However, a blood lead test cannot tell you whether you or your loved ones had exposures to lead in the past. 

  • 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. 
  • If you have have private insurance and have concerns about your child's exposure to lead, please contact your pediatrician for a blood lead test.
  • If you are an adult with concerns about your own exposure to lead, please talk with your healthcare provider about getting a blood lead test.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Recommendations

The 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

Elevated Blood Lead Level

An elevated blood lead level is defined by the "blood lead reference value (BLRV)." The BLRV identifies children with blood lead levels that are higher than most children's levels, based on data from a national survey. On October 28, 2021, the CDC updated the BLRV from 5 to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter.

For questions about a child's exposure to lead, or for follow up on an elevated blood lead level (EBL) please contact Jane Nickert, Public Health Nursing Director, at 734-544-9735.

Testing for Lead in Water

If you have a concern about the lead content of your water supply, you can purchase a lead water sample analysis bottle through our Environmental Health office. The cost for the analysis is $15. You purchase the bottle, then take it home and collect a sample. We recommend that you run a “flushed” sample analysis, by running the water until cold before collecting the sample. You then bring the bottle back to our office and it is sent to a laboratory for analysis. Results are generally available within 3-5 business days.

Use a certified lead-reducing drinking water filter if your home has or if you are uncertain if it has one of the following:

  • Lead or galvanized plumbing.
  • A lead service line carrying water from the street to their residence.
  • Old faucets and fittings that were sold before 2014.

For more information, please see our Lead in Drinking Water in Washtenaw County page.

Sources of Lead Poisoning

Children can be exposed to lead in many ways:

  • Homes built before 1978 (when lead-based paints were banned) probably contain lead-based paint. When the paint peels and cracks, it makes 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. 
  • Certain water pipes or plumbing fixtures may contain lead, causing lead to get into drinking water. See more information on Lead in Drinking Water in Washtenaw County.
  • Some foods, including spices, have been found to be contaminated with lead.
  • Lead can be found in some products such as toys, jewelry, and household items.
  • Lead is sometimes in candies or traditional home remedies.
  • Certain jobs and hobbies involve working with lead-based products, like stained glass work and ceramics, and hunting and fishing, and auto body work. This may cause parents to bring lead into the home.
  • Children who live near airports may be exposed to lead in air and soil from fuel used in aircrafts.

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).
  • Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling or renovating.
  • 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. USe a filter certified to remove lead if your home has or may have lead plumbing or fixtures. See more information on Lead in Drinking Water in Washtenaw County.

Washtenaw County Child Lead Data

The Washtenaw County Health for All site has these child lead indicators:

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 $15 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 reports of elevated blood lead levels. 
  • 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