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Lead Poisoning and Prevention


Lead poisoning occurs when lead enters the bloodstream and builds up to toxic levels. Most children who have lead poisoning do not act or look sick. Many different factors such as the source of exposure, length of exposure, and the child's age, nutritional status, and genetics affect how the body handles foreign substances. No safe lead level in children has been identified. The good news is that lead poisoning is largely preventable.

Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Goals:

The Sullivan County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is dedicated to the elimination of blood lead poisoning as a public health threat. This is accomplished by:

  • Educating parents and care givers on the importance of preventing exposure to lead
  • Identifying the  RISKS that cause lead poisoning 
  • TESTING for children up to age 6.
  • Providing Medical & Environmental FOLLOW-UP and case management for children identified with lead poisoning.

About Lead

Lead is a toxic element, especially in young children. When absorbed into the body, it can result in damage to the brain and nervous system, learning and behavior problems, slow growth and development, and hearing and speech problems. About 3.6 million American households have children under the age of 6 who live in homes with lead exposure hazards. According to the CDC, about 500,000 American children between the ages of 1 and 5 years have blood lead levels at or above the CDC blood lead reference level. 

Lead Poisoning and Prevention - Know The Facts

Protecting Kids From Lead Poisoning

Nutrition And Lead

Good nutrition is one way to protect your family from lead. From the start, breast milk provides the best nutrition and many health benefits for babies. For children and adults, the three key nutrients that can play a role in protecting the body from the harmful effects of lead are calcium, iron and Vitamin C. These nutrients help the body absorb less lead and are part of a healthy diet. Choose a variety of foods daily.

Good Nutrition Helps: Reduce the Effects of Lead!

Protect Your Family From Lead - Healthy Eating


Blood Lead Testing

Public Health law mandates testing for possible lead poisoning at the ages of 1 & 2 years old. Also, children should be screened regularly until 6 years of age. Preschool and childcare programs will ask whether your child has been tested. Not sure if your child needs a blood lead level test? Complete this brief survey to determine if your child may be at risk. 

To perform a blood lead test, a small amount of blood is taken from a finger prick or vein and tested for lead. Blood can be drawn at a doctor's office, hospital, clinic or lab. If you don't know where to bring your child for testing, call Sullivan County Public Health Services at 845-292-5910, Ext. 0.

Blood Lead Level Reporting

Most children have had some contact with lead in old paint, soil, plumbing, or another source. This is why New York State requires doctors to test children at age 1 year and again at age 2 years. 

For blood lead levels (BLL) of 0-4 micrograms/deciliter (ug/dl), there is very little lead in your child's blood, and no further action is required. If the BLL is 5ug/dl or higher, the results are reported to Sullivan County Public Health Services, and require action. For some children, simple changes in diet and more frequent hand-washing are all that is needed. Other children, with very high blood lead levels, may need drugs that help the body get rid of lead. You doctor will decide what your child needs. However, treatment is not enough; the source of the lead will have to be found and the problem corrected. Call Sullivan County Public Health Services at 845-292-5910, Ext.0, and we will advise you on your next steps. Please click here to read "What Your Child's Blood Lead Test Means".

Developing Brains and Lead

Young children are most vulnerable to the effects of lead and other environmental toxins on the brain. The results can be seen as delays in growth, behavior, and learning, which in turn can have an impact on school success.

Lead and Pregnancy

Lead can hurt pregnant women and their developing fetuses. A mother's exposure can cause an elevated blood lead level or lead poisoning in the unborn or nursing child. It can damage the brain, kidneys, nerves and other parts of the body. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or difficulty getting pregnant. Lead can be stored in a woman’s body for years, and then passed from mother to baby. Some pregnant women develop pica, the urge to eat nonfood items. These no-food items can contain lead.

Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

Recommendations for Follow-Up BLL In Pregnant Women

Sources of Lead

Lead can be found both inside and outside the home. The most common source of exposure is from lead-based paint, which was used in many homes built before 1978. Children can be exposed by swallowing or breathing in lead dust created by old paint that has cracked and chipped, eating paint chips, or chewing on surfaces coated with lead-based paint. Children can also be exposed by drinking water from lead pipes, or playing in lead -contaminated soil.

Other sources of lead include some metal toys, furniture, some metal-containing jewelry, some imported items such as health remedies, foods and candles, cosmetics, make-up used in religious ceremonies, and lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.

Beware of Lead! Do YOU know where lead may be hiding?

Public Health Intervention

Any child with a confirmed blood lead level (BLL) of 5 ug/dL or above is monitored by the Sullivan County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

BLL readings of 10-19 ug/dL receive risk reduction and educational information in the mail and, if possible, also by telephone. A child with a BLL of 20 ug/dL or higher is considered lead poisoned and receives educational material as well as a home visit by a Registered Nurse. An environmental assessment of the home by the Monticello District Office of the New York State Department of Health is also done to pinpoint any hidden high lead areas that might be the source of the lead poisoning.

For questions regarding lead based paint and other environmental factors, contact NYSDOH at 845-794-2045. All other inquiries pertaining to lead poisoning and prevention, contact us at 845-292-5910, ext. 2200.

Lead Poisoning Treatment

The CDC recommendations for clinical intervention with a child with a BLL of 5ug/dL or greater are:

  • Confirm a capillary blood lead test with a venous draw within 1 to 3 months.
  • Have child tested on the appropriate follow-up testing schedule.
  • Get a complete history and physical exam on the child.
  • Order the appropriate laboratory tests on the child such as tests for low iron or anemia.
  • Monitor the child's growth and development, especially as the child ages and enters school.
  • Provide education to the family on the sources of lead and how to reduce any lead hazards found.

Quick Guide: Management of Children According to Blood Lead Level (BLL)

Lead in Occupations and Hobbies

Lead is one of the most common exposures found in industry and is a primary cause of workplace illness. If you work around products or materials that contain lead, there a chance you could be exposed. Certain jobs have been known to put workers at risk of lead exposure:

  • Artists/ Painters
  • Construction Workers
  • Auto Repairers
  • Glass Manufacturers
  • Lead Manufacturers/ Miners/ Refiners/ Smelters
  • Plumbers/ Pipe Fitters
  • Welders
Routes of Exposure

Lead-emitting industries such as smelters and battery manufacturing plants can cause lead contamination of air, soil, and food grown in contaminated soil. Adults working in these industries or other hobbies or occupations involving exposure to lead may be directly exposed and/or may carry lead-contaminated dust home to their families on their hair, clothing, and shoes. Adults may contaminate their vehicle if they do not shower and change their clothes, including their shoes, before entering the vehicle. Tools or other items used on the worksite should be kept in the trunk of the car.

Adults Who Work With Lead Need To Take Precautions

Health Dangers From Lead on The Job

Take-Home Lead: A Hazard for Children and Adults

Lead and Renovations and Home Improvements

Those doing renovations must provide a federal booklet called "Renovate Right" to the property owner and occupants and users of the property before work begins. This booklet can be found at:

Childproof Home Improvements

Renovation Instructions

Contractors: Lead Safety During Renovations

Homeowner and Tenant Guide

Additional Resources

Sullivan County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Power Point

NYS DOH Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention

Lead Poisoning Prevention Provider Booklet

Lead Poisoning Prevention Booklet


Be sure to also check the FAQ about lead:

Q1. What causes lead poisoning in children?

Answer: The most common cause is lead-based paint. If floors have dust from old painted walls, or paint chips, a baby could breathe in lead dust, or suck on lead-dusted hands or toys. Some toddlers eat paint chips or chew on lead-painted window sills and stair rails.

Q2. What are the symptoms of lead poisoning in children?

Answer: They can include fatigue, crankiness and stomach aches. But usually there are no signs: a blood lead test is the only sure way to tell.

Q3. How is a lead test done?

Answer: A small amount of blood is taken from a finger prick or vein and tested for lead. Blood can be drawn at a doctor's office, hospital, clinic or lab. If you don't know where to bring your child for testing, call your local health department.

Q4. Which children should be tested?

Answer: All children six months to six years should be screened regularly. Children should be tested by their first birthday and again when they're two. Preschool and child care programs will be looking for proof that the child has been tested.

Q5. What if the blood test shows a problem?

Answer: For some children, simple changes in diet and more frequent hand-washing are all that is needed. Other children, with very high blood lead levels, may need drugs that help the body get rid of lead. You doctor will decide what your child needs. But treatment is not enough. The source of the lead will have to be found and the problem corrected. Your local health department will advise you.

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