People at Increased Risk for Childhood Lead Poisoning

Key points

  • Across the United States, there are a variety of childhood lead exposure sources and risk factors.
  • Certain populations are at a greater risk of lead exposure.
Two children playing with toys while sitting at a table.

Who's at risk

Children from low-income households

Children from low-income households and those who live in housing built before 1978 are at the greatest risk of lead exposure.

The use of lead paint was banned in 1978. Houses built before lead paint was banned, including houses in low-income areas, are more likely to contain lead. This includes lead-based paint as well as pipes, faucets, and plumbing fixtures containing lead. Also, some African American persons are at a higher risk of lead exposure due to poor housing stock.

Younger children

Children less than six years old are at a higher risk of lead exposure. This is because their bodies are rapidly developing and more susceptible to taking in lead if exposed.

Young children also tend to put their hands or other objects into their mouths. This is why the most common source of lead exposure in young children is lead dust. They swallow lead dust after placing their lead-contaminated hands or other objects in their mouths.

Immigrant and refugee children

Immigrant and refugee children from less developed countries are at higher risk of being exposed to lead. This is due to less strict rules protecting children from lead exposure in their country of origin. Because of this, children who are immigrants, refugees, or recently adopted from less developed countries are also at risk for exposure.

Pregnant people

Pregnant people should know the risk of lead exposure because lead can pass to their baby during pregnancy. Breastfeeding can also be a source of lead exposure to babies. Adults who are or have been exposed to lead can also pass lead to their babies when breastfeeding. Formula prepared using contaminated water can also result in a baby being exposed to lead. Water contamination can occur from leaded pipes and plumbing parts.


Some adults work in industries or have hobbies that expose them to lead. These adults may bring lead home with them and expose their families to lead without knowing. For example, a parent who works in renovation of older homes could bring home lead dust on their clothes or skin. This dust can be tracked onto carpets, floors, furniture, and other surfaces that a child may touch. Adults should take steps to keep them and their families safe from lead in their workplace or hobbies.


Additional resources about at-risk populations: