Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

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Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning—Seven Facts You Need to Know About Lead-Based Paint


By David Chovancek, Peoria City/County Health Department

1. The History of Lead-based Paint
Lead has been used in construction since ancient times due to its many useful properties as a soft, heavy, malleable metal. In modern history, lead is being used in many applications from rechargeable batteries, ammunition, solder for plumbing, and oil-based paint. As useful as this metal is in society, it does have many drawbacks.

2. Lead-based Paint Is Toxic To People
After decades of study and research, we now know that that lead is toxic to humans, even in low doses. Lead-based paint and plumbing components, such as solder and piping, are now a primary concern in a lot of communities and its frequent use in home construction. In 1978, lead-based paint was banned by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission for paint containing more than 0.06 percent lead. This value was further decreased in 2009 down to 0.009 percent.

3. Lead Paint in Homes
Many homes built prior to 1978 still have lead-based paint, as well as lead dust. Lead-based paint can be found on doors, windows, walls, and any painted areas of older homes. As old paint becomes damaged by moisture and friction from opening windows and doors, it turns to dust that gathers around the house.

4. Lead Poisoning in Children
Childhood lead poisoning is the most common pediatric public health problem today. Lead poisoning occurs when lead dust or lead paint chips are ingested by mouth. Children under age 6 have the highest risk for exposure to lead and lead poisoning. It is more common for children to crawl around near windows and doors and touch areas with dust contaminated from lead paint and then put their hands in their mouths, resulting in ingesting the lead and getting lead poisoning. Lead can cross the blood-brain barrier in young children leading to severe neurological problems and lasting impacts on health. Because children’s brains are still forming, infants and young children can absorb 40–50 percent of lead consumed, whereas adults might absorb only 5–15  percent.

5. Effects of Childhood Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning in Illinois is defined as any blood lead level above 3.5ug/dL. It can affect health from childhood and last throughout life. Lead poisoning symptoms and effects can lead to decreased IQ, anemia and similar blood disorders, decreased fertility, poor hearing, speech, coordination, and hyperactivity. Most health effects are not fully reversible but can be treated to prevent further decline. Ultimately, removing the child from the lead hazard is the most effective treatment to begin lowering blood lead levels.

6. Screening Children for Lead Poisoning
The good news is that many regulatory agencies have begun screening and testing children for lead poisoning as well as mitigating or decreasing lead-based paint hazards in homes across the country. Children should be tested for lead poisoning at intervals from 9 months all the way up to age 6. Many healthcare providers test children or schedule testing at local health departments. For childhood lead poisoning screening, contact your local health department

7. Lead Safe Program in Peoria County for Healthy Children and Healthy Homes
With many older homes in Peoria County, the Lead Safe Program works with residents to identify and help children with high lead levels. The program also includes helping residents plan for a healthy home to mitigate lead paint hazards. In Peoria County, call 309-679-6120 to discuss childhood lead screening, testing, and home lead hazard mitigation. For more information on Childhood Lead Screening, visit the Peoria City/County Health Department website at

David is an Environmental Health Specialist for the Peoria City/County Health Department (PCCHD) and specializes in the Lead Safe Program as a Lead Risk Assessor. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Public Health from ISU and is currently working with a fellow Lead Safe teammate to create and implement a standardized training program for new hires working within the Lead program at PCCHD.