Prevent Children’s Exposure to Lead

Children playing with toys

The harmful effects of childhood lead exposure can be prevented. The key is to keep children from coming in contact with lead. Learn how to prevent children’s exposure to lead.

Lead in paint, soil, air, or water is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.

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
  • Hearing and speech problems

There are many ways that 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.

Common Ways Children Can Come in Contact with Lead

Young children can be indirectly exposed to lead when they put objects containing lead dust, such as toys, trinkets, or their fingers, in their mouth as part of their normal development. Children may be exposed to lead through contact with paint chips and dust from lead paint in buildings and homes that may have landed on windowsills, the floor, toys, trinkets, or their fingers.

But their exposure is more common from swallowing house dust or soil contaminated by lead paint are the most common sources of lead exposure. Children can also be exposed to lead if they swallow chipped pieces of lead paint.

For example, old or worn lead paint peels and cracks, and tiny bits of lead dust settle on the dust and soil inside and around homes. This occurs on doors, windowsills, and wells. In addition, lead can be scattered when paint is disturbed during the following:

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.

  • Building destruction or remodeling
  • Paint removal
  • Preparation of surfaces for repainting

Lead paint or dust are not the only ways lead exposure can occur in children. Other sources include:

  • Dust from soil contaminated with lead from leaded gasoline, aviation fuel, mining, or industries
  • Drinking water delivered through lead-based pipes, faucets, and plumbing fixtures
  • Traditional medicines and cosmetics such as azarcon and greta, which are used for an upset stomach or indigestion in Hispanic communities.
  • Some candy and candy wrappers
  • Consumer products such as toys, jewelry, antiques, and collectible items
  • Lead-glazed pottery

Adults who encounter lead at work or from hobbies can expose their family by wearing these clothes into the home and washing them with the family laundry. These work and hobby activities can expose adults to lead:

  • Using an indoor firing range
  • Making home repairs
  • Remodeling a home
  • Making pottery
  • Bringing scrap or metal home from work
  • Battery recycling
  • Stained glass window fabrication

Talk to a Healthcare Provider 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 healthcare provider. He or she can help you decide whether to have your child tested.

A blood lead test is the easiest way to find out if your child has been exposed to lead. Most children with lead in their blood have no symptoms.

If your child has been exposed to lead, your child’s healthcare provider can recommend needed services.

See frequently asked questions about lead and possible lead exposure.

For more information on sources of lead exposure and prevention tips

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

October 24-30, 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 NLPPW Partner Information Toolkit  pdf icon[PDF – 1.87 MB]external icon created by CDC and our federal partners to encourage information sharing, collaboration, and promotion of lead poisoning prevention activities.

Page last reviewed: October 27, 2021