Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 8:04am

What you can do to Reduce your Family's Exposure to Lead

If you live in an apartment building or house built before 1978, chances are that you and your family are at increased risk of lead exposure. Madison resident Janet Parker lives in such a house and had some real concerns about exposing her baby daughter to lead paint. Lead exposure, even at very low levels, can damage the brain, kidneys, and nervous system; hazards that are particularly dangerous to children and pregnant women. This information motivated her to get some help from Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) to assess the potential lead exposures in her home. She requested a visit from one of our specialists and reported that the visit "was a huge help."… "He did lead testing and helped us create a plan to work with contractors to repair chipping paint indoors and out, and to clean up effectively so that dust was not a lingering problem."

She was pleased with how clear the communication was and said that he "helped us understand the risks and minimize them. We are very grateful for this service. I think any families who live in older housing and have young kids should consider getting the assessment for lead."

The importance of such efforts is underscored by the significant consequences of lead poisoning to children. These involve an increased risk of learning disabilities, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and behavioral problems. In most cases, these problems show up years after the exposure has occurred. While National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week provides an opportunity to remind our community about the dangers of lead exposure, the concern is always relevant to prevent childhood lead poisoning.

As Ms. Parker learned, deteriorating paint on walls and windows can start peeling and chipping, creating paint dust and debris that can be easy for small children to touch and possibly swallow while they play. The paint dust created by this deterioration can also accumulate on window sills which can create conditions that can present direct lead exposure hazards to both small children and other family members. Other sources of exposure in the home can be from contaminated dust and debris from remodeling projects, old lead water pipes, pottery, some folk remedies, and certain imported candies and painted toys.

If you have questions or doubts about lead risks in your home, PHMDC can also send a specialist to your home. These visits can involve an inspection, collection of samples for analysis, as well as providing information about lead risks in the home. If there is a confirmed case of lead poisoning, the specialist will do more extensive testing and work with the family to help make sure that the hazards are properly addressed.

The fact that this is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week provides us with an opportunity to remind our community about the dangers of lead exposure and the ongoing need to prevent childhood lead poisoning, and to also remind people to ask for help when they need it.

If you are a renter in a building built before 1978, please help us gather useful information by taking a brief survey by clicking on the following link

Additional information about the risks of childhood lead poisoning is available from the PHMDC lead brochure at:
or contact our office at (608) 266-4821.

If you wish to have a sample of peeling paint tested for lead, PHMDC's laboratory can perform these tests. Call (608) 266-4821 for more information.

Information about lead-safe painting and remodeling is available from the United Stated Department of Housing and Urban Development at
and from the PHMDC brochure at


Public Health - Madison & Dane County


  • Jeff Golden, (608) 243-0302