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Childhood Lead Poisoning

Exposure and Risk

In the United States, the major source of lead exposure among children is lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust found in older buildings. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. Houses and other buildings built before 1978, especially those built before 1950, may contain lead-based paint. Any child who lives in or regularly visit homes built before 1978, especially houses and buildings with deteriorating or disturbed paint, is at risk for lead poisoning. This includes grandparents' or other family members' homes and in-home daycares.

Chipping, flaking and peeling paint or paint disturbed during home remodeling can contribute to lead dust, contaminate bare soil around the home, and makes paint chips and dust-containing lead accessible to children. Children under the age of 6 years are at risk for lead poisoning because they tend to put their hands or other objects into their mouths. Children can be exposed to lead by eating lead-based paint chips, chewing on objects painted with lead-based paint or swallowing house dust or soil that contains lead.

Lead from sources other than housing may also present a hazard. Other sources of lead poisoning are related to:

  • drinking water (lead pipes, solder, brass fixtures, and valves can all leach lead);
  • cultural and traditional medicines and remedies (azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion; pay-loo-ah, which is used for rash or fever);
  • hobbies that include the use of lead (making stained-glass windows, hunting, fishing, target shooting); and
  • work that includes the use of lead (recycling or making automobile batteries, painting, radiator repair).

Find out more about lead sources. (

Children from all social and economic levels can be affected by lead poisoning, but children whose families are low income and who are of minority race and ethnicity, especially non-Hispanic black children, are at most risk. For example, 3% of black children, compared to 1.3% of white children, have elevated blood lead levels.

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