Lead Poisoning in Children

Though lead in exterior and interior house paints was banned in 1978, more than 24 million homes in the United States are at risk of lead paint hazards, which are by far the most common source of lead poisoning for children in this country. Much progress has been made in reducing exposure to lead, but nearly one million American children have lead levels in their blood high enough to risk impairing their mental abilities as well as their physical growth and stature.

Older oil-based paints were particularly heavily leaded and may flake or peel off and be swallowed by children. Paints that are in good condition or that have been painted over with lead-free paints are not a problem, unless painted surfaces rub together and create dust (as on window frames). Remodeling that involves removing leaded paint, particularly by chipping or sanding the paint, can be extremely hazardous and should be done by experts.

Because any kind of dust, especially paint dust, may contain lead, it’s important to keep a child’s environment as dust-free as possible. Clean windowsills and floors frequently with detergent and water. Make sure children wash their hands before eating. Keep kids from chewing on painted objects. If you’re not sure the paint on an old toy is lead-free, dispose of it.

Throughout the world, sources of lead in the environment include human activities such as burning fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing; air pollution; as well as lead-containing products like paint, caulking, and pipe solder in older homes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all children for blood lead levels. If a child is at high risk (for example, lives in old housing), the first screening should be done at the age of six months. The interval for re-screening will depend on the results of the first test. Children at low risk should be screened at 12 months and retested at age two. Children with low blood levels need not be tested again.

If your child’s test shows lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or higher (per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]), you will need help from your physician and the health department to track down the lead sources and correct the problem.

For more information on handling lead hazards, including advice on removing old paint, you can call the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 202.708.0685 or go to their Web site, which has an area devoted to lead hazards. Another source is the National Lead Information Clearinghouse hotline (800.424.LEAD).

Signs of Lead Poisoning

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead poisoning in children can result in the following:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Behavioral problems like hyperactivity, aggression, bullying
  • Delayed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Lower than average IQ

Generally, the higher the blood lead level, the higher the risk for problems.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 28 Jul 2010

Last Modified: 01 Oct 2015