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Safety & Prevention

Lead Exposure: Steps to Protect Your Family

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Lead in the body can affect a child's development, learning and behavior. Lead is a metal that is found in a lot of places. Children have the most risk factors because they often put their hands and objects into their mouths and their growing bodies tend to easily absorb what they eat.

Although you can't usually see lead, you can do things to prevent your child from being exposed to it. Here are some important steps you can take:

9 steps to keep your home lead safe

  • Test your home for lead. If your home was built before 1978—and especially before 1960—talk with your local health department about getting your home tested for lead. If you don't know how old your home is, assume there is lead. In the United States, lead is in paint in 87% of homes built before 1940, 69% of homes built from 1940–1959, and 24% of homes built from 1960–1977. Homes in the Northeast and Midwest are most likely to have lead in paint. Ask the landlord about lead before you sign a lease. Before you buy a home, have it inspected for lead.

  • Before any work is done on your home, learn about safe ways to make repairs. When repairs are being made, seal off the area until the job is done and keep your child away until everything is cleaned up. Be sure to use a certified contractor. Removing lead paint on your own can often make the condition worse. If work is not done the safe way, you and your child can be harmed by increased exposure to lead in dust. See the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting webpage for more information.

  • Keep your children away from old windows, old porches, and areas with chipping or peeling paint. If this paint is in your home, cover it with duct tape or contact paper until it can be completely removed. If you rent your home, let your landlord know about any peeling or chipping paint. Landlords are legally required to repair lead problems found on their property.

  • Do not allow your child to play in the dirt next to your old home. Plant grass over bare soil or use mulch or wood chips.

  • Clean your home regularly. Wipe down floors and other level surfaces with a damp mop or sponge. Taking shoes off at the door can help reduce tracking in dirt.

  • Teach your children to wash their hands, especially before eating. Wash pacifiers and toys regularly.

  • Keep clean. If your work or hobbies involve lead, change your clothes and shoes and shower when finished. Keep your clothes at work or wash your work clothes as soon as possible.

  • Use only cold tap water for mixing formula, drinking or cooking. If possible, use a water filter that is labeled as "NSF certified" to remove lead.

  • Eat healthy. Give your child a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods that are high in calcium and iron. A good diet can help your child absorb less lead.

How lead can harm children

Lead can interfere with typical growth and development and affect almost every system of the body, including the brain. Some children may show learning and behavior problems. These may be seen first during the preschool years or later.

Physical symptoms may include stomach pain, headaches, vomiting, and a feeling of weakness. Very high levels of lead in the body may cause seizures, coma, and death.

Treatment of lead poisoning

The first action is to identify the source of exposure to lead and prevent further exposure. Some children with high levels of lead in their blood need to take a medicine that helps their body get rid of it faster. If your child's lead level is too high, it can take months to years for it to come down; close follow-up is needed. Children with development or behavior problems should be evaluated and, if needed, receive services to help them improve.

Where lead can be found

  • Homes and buildings. Lead was added to indoor and outdoor paint until 1978. When lead-based paint surfaces rub together (like when a window is opened or a door is closed) or when paint begins to peel or chip, the lead can get into the dust and dirt in and around the home.

  • Hobby materials (stained glass, paints, solders, fishing weights, and buckshot).

  • Home remedies (azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion; pay-loo-ah, which is used for rash or fever).

  • Workplaces (foundries, smelteries, battery recycling plants, and auto repair shops).

  • Food bowls painted with lead glazes, especially if made in another country or old.

  • Sometimes in products like toys, jewelry, or furniture, especially if made in another country.

  • Water that has been in contact with lead pipes, lead solder, or older plumbing fixtures, especially hot water pipes because hot water absorbs lead more quickly than cold water.

Should my child be tested for lead?

The only way to know for sure if your child has been exposed to lead is with a blood test. Screening tests for lead usually include blood taken from the finger, but when doctors suspect lead poisoning, it is more accurate for these tests to include blood taken from a vein in the arm. The test measures the amount of lead in the blood. If you think that your child has been exposed to lead, talk with your pediatrician about getting a blood test to check for lead.

Talk with your pediatrician

If you have questions about lead exposure, talk with your pediatrician. Your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) have staff who can also talk with parents about concerns over environmental toxins.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from Lead is a Poison: What You Need to Know (Copyright © 2022 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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