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revised June 22, 2016

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Lead

Lead is a soft, silvery metal that can be found in food, air, water, soil, dust and consumer products.

Lead can have harmful health effects, even at low levels of exposure. It is especially harmful to unborn babies and young children.

How could my family and I be exposed?

You could be exposed to lead by breathing in or swallowing lead. You could also be exposed through skin contact with lead, but you tend not to absorb as much through skin.

There are many potential sources of exposure, including:

  • Air, soil and dust
  • Drinking water (in contact with old lead water pipes or solder used in a home)
  • Food
  • Flaking or peeling paint (in the past lead was present in paint at higher levels than what is allowed today)
  • Consumer products (e.g., older PVC mini-blinds, toys or jewellery)
  • Glaze (e.g., used on pottery).

Lead in the environment has been greatly reduced due to the phase-out of lead in gasoline and a reduction in some consumer products.

What are the symptoms and health effects?

There may not be noticeable symptoms, particularly for low levels of lead exposure. At higher levels of exposure, symptoms may be more noticeable. They can include:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • General weakness
  • Paleness
  • Weight loss
  • Poor attention span
  • Noticeable learning difficulty
  • Slowed speech development
  • Hyperactivity

Even though a low level of exposure to lead may not cause symptoms, it can still lead to long-term health problems. Lead exposure could harm your nervous system, immune system and kidneys, and it could cause increased blood pressure.

For unborn babies, infants and young children, lead exposure can be harmful to brain development. It can contribute to learning disabilities and behavioural problems.

How can I protect myself and my family?

Limit the amount lead you swallow:

  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, especially after gardening and playing outdoors.
  • Wash garden crops (e.g., vegetables and fruit) with water to remove soil.
  • When using water for cooking, flush your taps until water is cold to the touch. (This is especially important if your home was built before 1990, when lead may have been used in water pipes and solder.)

Limit the dust and dirt in your home:

  • Remove shoes at the door.
  • Regularly vacuum carpets and upholstery using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Regularly use a clean damp mop or cloth on floors and hard surfaces. Wash the mop and cloth separately from your other laundry.
  • If you are renovating, close off the area and air vents, use plastic sheeting and drop sheets to capture debris, and use a window fan facing outdoors to force dust outdoors.

If you are concerned, test lead levels:

  • Talk to your doctor about having a blood test to measure your lead levels.
  • Have the Region of Peel test your drinking water for lead. Find out if you are eligible.

Resources and links

Region of Peel

Health Canada

Government of Canada

Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and the Environment


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Revised: June 22, 2016

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