Getting your child tested for lead
In Oregon, approximately 2,000-3,000 children may have blood lead levels at or above the lead poisoning level of 10 micrograms per deciliter (or 10μg/dl). Many more children have borderline levels of lead that are not high enough to be termed “poisoning,” but not low enough to be considered safe. Recent research indicates that even low levels of lead in the blood may contribute to lowered intelligence later in life.
Why get tested?
A blood lead test is the only way to find out if a child has lead poisoning. Signs of lead poisoning are not always easy to see. Children can be poisoned by lead, but not look or act sick. Many children who have lead poisoning look and act healthy. Because of this, lead poisoning may go unrecognized.
Where can I have my child tested?
Ask your doctor. Discuss lead testing with your health care provider. Not all providers routinely test children for lead, so you may need to specifically ask about lead testing. Be prepared to explain your concerns and be assertive in asking for the test if your feel you child may be at risk.
Free lead screening clinics. You can bring your child (age 6 and under) to one of the free lead testing clinics listed below:
- May 21, 2:30-6pm -- Portland Montessori
- May 22, 2:30-6pm -- Portland Montessori
- May 23, 1-5:30pm -- Gateway WIC
- May 29, 2:30-4:30pm -- Portland Montessori
- May 29, 5:30-8:30pm -- NAYA
- June 1, 10:30am-1pm -- Alder Elementary SUN School
- June 3, 12-5pm -- Gresham WIC
- June 4, 2-5:30pm -- Gresham WIC Health Fair
- June 6, 1:30-5:30pm -- Northeast WIC Health Fair
- June 7, 5pm-7:30pm -- Earl Boyles Elementary School Health Fair
- June 10, 1:30-6pm -- Northeast WIC
- June 27, 1-5:30pm -- Gateway WIC
About the blood test
The amount of lead found in a child’s blood is called a blood lead level. Blood lead tests tell how many micrograms (millionths of a gram) of lead are in each deciliter (tenth of a liter) of a child’s blood (µg/dl). A blood lead level will tell if a child has been exposed to lead in the last 3-4 months. Any level at or above 5 μg/dl is considered elevated.
To find out how much lead is in a child’s blood, a small amount of blood is taken from a child’s arm, finger or heel. Blood taken from an arm vein (called a venous blood test) is the most reliable test. However, the finger-prick test used by our staff is an accurate screening test and less scary for a child. A high result from the screening test should always be checked with another test where blood is taken from a vein in the arm. Our staff are trained and prepared to assist with any results from the test.
Understanding your child's lead test
When your health care provider gives you the results of the test, make sure that that they tell you specifically what the test value is and not just inform you if it was “normal” or “abnormal.” Any lead in the blood should be taken seriously.
Less than 5µg/dl: No medical management needed.
5µg/dl - 9 µg/dl is considered elevated. Parents should take steps to identify possible sources of lead in their child’s environment in order to prevent any further exposure. Give the child healthy, low fat foods that are high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C, all of which have been shown to reduce lead absorption in children. You or your health care provider should contact the Leadline to arrange for a free home assessment by a trained Lead Risk Assessor to help you identify and remove possible lead hazards.
At or above 10 µg/dl: If a capillary test is above 10 µg/dl, a venous blood lead test (from an arm vein) will need to be taken to confirm the blood lead level. Children can be suffering from lead exposure or poisoning, but not look or act sick. If the lead level stays at this level, children can experience permanent health problems. At this level, you or your health care provider should contact the Leadline to arrange for a free home assessment by a trained Lead Risk Assessor to help you identify and remove possible lead hazards. Your child will need another blood test in 3 months to see if the level of lead has lowered.
Download a printable version of Understanding your child's lead test
What if my child has elevated lead?
In most cases the treatment for elevated lead includes:
- Removing children from the source of lead exposure
- Helping the child’s body eliminate the lead though good nutrition
- Monitoring the child’s blood lead level over time to make sure the level decreases
Contact the Leadline at 503-988-4000 to arrange for a free home assessment by a trained Lead Risk Assessor to help you identify and remove possible lead hazards.
Making sure your children eat healthy, low-fat food high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C to help eliminate lead from the body. Poor nutrition, especially calcium and iron deficiency, is associated with increased lead absorption, retention and toxicity.
About Chelation therapy
The use of the pharmaceutical drug chelation is reserved only for children that have an extremely high elevated blood-lead level (generally at or above 45 µg/dl). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends drug chelation therapy should only be undertaken under careful medical supervision in a center capable of providing appropriate intensive care services. This procedure is not without risks. It is important to discuss these risks with your health care provider.
Other tests and treatments
Hair or Urine testing: Some alternative health care providers may suggest testing for lead in your child’s hair or urine. These methods have not been shown to be as reliable as a blood test.
Herbal Chelation: Some information sources recommend herbal medicines as an “herbal chelation” therapy. There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence supporting the use of "herbal chelation" to lower an elevated blood lead level. It is important to discuss alternative therapies, including the use of herbal supplements, with your health care provider.