FILE - lead poisoning

In this Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006 photo, contractors Luis Benitez, foreground, and Jose Diaz, background, clean up lead paint in a contaminated building in Providence, R.I. 

Lead poisoning, defined as 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, is especially harmful to children because it can interfere with the development of their brains and nervous systems.

Illinois has one of the highest rates of lead poisoning in the nation.

The Illinois Department of Public Health recently released tips for addressing the problem.

Although in other places contaminated water and leeching lead pipes cause high levels of poisoning, in Illinois the main culprit is lead paint in older buildings, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Since 1978, lead paint has been banned, but we have lots of beautiful old homes throughout the state where if there hasn't been a big renovation or remodeling you may still have deteriorating lead-based paint on the walls and on the window sills,” she said.

“So the problem with kids when you’re dealing with chipped paint, they're touching it and from touching it they might end up touching their mouths, so they might end up ingesting parts of it.

“It’s on their toys, and there is more of a chance for people to come in contact with it when it's on the walls and on the window sills and in different parts of the home,” she added.

Children in Illinois are tested at least once for lead levels before their sixth birthday, and if high levels of lead are found, public health experts can visit the home to look for the source of contamination, she said.

In the meantime, parents, particularly those living in older homes or areas they know to be contaminated, can take precautionary measures such as removing shoes in the home, removing obvious chipped or flaked paint and regularly washing areas such as floors, countertops and windowsills with soap and water.

For information, see www.dph.illinois.gov.