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The lowdown on lead


Exposure to lead, a toxic metal, can make you, your children, and even your pets, sick. Breathing, touching, or eating paint or dust containing lead is the most common way of being exposed. You can also be exposed to lead from water pipes or faucets, especially when hot water is used.

“Even low levels of lead exposure in children can have a significant impact,” said Lisa Fink, MD, chief medical officer, pediatrician, and internist at InterCare Community Health Network in Benton Harbor. “This is because a child’s brain is still developing, and lead is toxic to the brain. However, lower levels of lead can be hard to detect with symptoms alone which is why parents need to be aware of their environment and city water supplies.”

Understanding the effects

Lead poisoning can affect just about every system in the body, yet often produces no definitive symptoms.

Children who are exposed to lead may experience behavior, learning, and sleep problems. These can include lower levels of intelligence and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other signs of lead poisoning include clumsiness, weakness, headaches, and hearing problems. It can also cause slow growth, stomach problems, seizures, and coma.

In adults, lead can cause problems with blood pressure and muscles. It can hurt your kidneys, nerves, and stomach, and impair memory and concentration. Lead can also cause reproductive problems in both men and women.

Take action

  • Have your home tested for water by contacting your water supplier or visiting to find a certified lab. If water is found to have high levels of lead, follow instructions provided by your local or state health department which may include installing a water filter or using bottled water.
  • Let tap water run for a few moments before using it and only use cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula. Do not boil water to remove lead.
  • Feed children foods rich in iron and calcium which can limit the amount of lead they soak up. Good choices include eggs, lean red meat, beans, and dairy products.
  • Don’t let kids play in bare soil (consider a sandbox instead). Wipe children’s hands and remove their shoes after playing outdoors.
  • Don’t let your children lick or chew painted surfaces and regularly check for areas with chipped paint.
  • Wash toys often. Be aware of toy recalls due to lead paint. Sign up for recall alerts at

Testing for lead exposure

If you think your home has high levels of lead, or you or your children are experiencing symptoms consistent with potential lead exposure, talk with your family health care provider or pediatrician about getting tested. Your provider can explain the test results and discuss necessary treatment options or lifestyle modifications needed.

For additional questions about lead exposure, visit or call the Berrien County Health Department public hotline at 1.800.815.5485

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