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Facts About...

Lead


What is lead?

Lead is a soft, blue-gray toxic metal. Lead occurs naturally, but much of its presence in the environment originates from its historic use in paint, gasoline and ongoing or historic mining and industrial operations. While lead may be useful for industries, at certain levels it can be harmful to people. Exposure to lead may lead to learning disabilities, behavioural problems or reduced intelligence. The developing fetus, infants and children are especially vulnerable to lead due to their developing nervous system, tendency to chew on things, and bodies that more readily absorb lead. Exposure to large amounts of lead can cause serious illness or even death.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

There are many possible symptoms of lead poisoning. Lead can affect many different parts of the body. A single high dose of lead such as swallowing a lead object (i.e., toy jewellery) can cause a severe health emergency. The symptoms of lead poisoning may include:

Very high levels may cause vomiting, stumbling, muscle weakness, seizures or coma. Abdominal pain (stomach ache) and cramping is usually the first sign of a high, toxic dose of lead poison.

However, it is more common for lead poisoning to build up slowly over time. This occurs from repeated exposure to small amounts of lead. In this case, there may not be any obvious symptoms. The health problems get worse as the level of lead in the blood gets higher. Possible complications include:

How can I reduce my family’s exposure to lead?

Should I or my children be tested for lead?

If you have concerns that you or your children may have been exposed to lead contact your doctor or the Poison Control centre in your area. Through a simple blood test a family doctor can determine your blood lead level and, therefore, how much lead you have been exposed to. This is the most useful screening and diagnostic test for lead exposure.

Can I test for lead in my home?

Health Canada does not recommend the use of do-it-yourself home lead test kits. It is recommended that an accredited commercial laboratory be consulted for further testing advice. A list of accredited laboratories can be found on the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation website www.cala.ca or by telephone at 613-233-5300.

If you suspect that you may have lead materials in your service lines or lead in your plumbing and you wish to have your tap water tested, the Region of Durham has a provincially mandated lead monitoring program. However, due to prescribed limitations on the number, and locations for sampling, not all locations will be suitable for the program. For information regarding your suitability for this program, please call the Durham Region Works Department at 1-800-372-1102 ext 2059.

Alternately, you can get your water tested by one of Ontario's licensed laboratories. Go to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment website: www.ene.gov.on.ca/en/water/tapwater/index.php to view a list of provincially-licensed labs and an interactive map with contact information for municipalities.

Where can I find more information on lead?

July 4, 2012