Prevent Children’s Exposure to Lead

Children playing with toys

Childhood lead poisoning is 100% preventable. The key is to keep children from coming into contact with lead. Learn how to prevent children’s exposure to lead.

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. There are many ways parents can reduce children’s exposure to lead before they are harmed. Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be identified and controlled or removed safely. Lead is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell.

Common Ways Children Can Come in Contact with Lead

Young children often put toys, fingers, and other objects in their mouth as part of their normal development. This may put them in contact with lead paint or dust.

One common way children can be exposed to lead is through contact with chips and dust in buildings and homes from old lead paint. Children can be directly exposed to lead if they swallow chipped pieces of leaded paint. But their exposure is more common from swallowing house dust or soil contaminated by leaded paint. This happens when lead paint peels and cracks, resulting in tiny bits of lead dust that embed in the dust and soil in and around homes; for example, when leaded paint is old or worn, or is subject to constant rubbing (as on doors and windowsills and wells). In addition, lead can be scattered when paint is disturbed during building destruction or remodeling, paint removal, or preparation of painted surfaces for repainting.

Infographic: Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

Lead paint or dust are not the only ways children can come into contact with lead. Other sources include:

  • traditional home health remedies such as azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion in the Hispanic community
  • imported candy and candy wrappers
  • imported toys and toy jewelry
  • imported cosmetics
  • pottery and ceramics
  • drinking water contaminated by lead leaching from lead pipes, solder, brass fixtures, or valves
  • consumer products, including tea kettles and vinyl miniblinds

A variety of work and hobby activities expose adults to lead, including using an indoor firing range, making home repairs, remodeling a home, and making pottery. When adults whose jobs expose them to lead wear their work clothes home or wash them with the family laundry, their families can be exposed to lead. Families can also be exposed when adults bring scrap or waste material home from work.

Get Treatment if You Think Your Child Has Been in Contact with Lead

If you think your child has been in contact with lead, contact your child’s health care provider. He or she can help you decide whether to test your child’s blood.

A blood lead test is the only way to find out if your child has a high lead level. Most children with lead in their blood have no symptoms.

Your child’s health care provider can recommend needed services if your child has been exposed to lead.
See frequently asked questions about lead and possible lead exposure.

For more information on sources of lead exposure and prevention tips, please visit our webpage or call CDC-INFO at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week: Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future

October 20-26 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. This year’s theme is “Get the Facts, Get Your Home Tested and Get Your Child Tested.” Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease of young children. Approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 have blood lead levels above the blood lead value at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week occurs every year during the last full week in October. Many states and communities offer free blood lead testing and hold education and awareness events. For more information about National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week activities in your area, please contact your state or local health department.
View the National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week Campaign Toolkit created by CDC and our federal partners to encourage information sharing, collaboration, and promotion of lead poisoning prevention activities.

Page last reviewed: October 21, 2019