Lead in Children

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal that is toxic when it enters our bodies. Although the use of lead in housing paint, gasoline, and drinking water pipes has been reduced or eliminated, old and new products containing lead can still be found in our environment. The products can contribute to lead poisoning. Even small amounts of lead can result in poor health outcomes. All people can be affected by lead, but lead is most dangerous to children, especially those under six. 

  1. Health Effects
  2. Sources of Lead
  3. Who Should be Tested?


In children, lead is most damaging when they are six years and younger. Children are growing at a very fast rate - growing bones, developing stronger muscles and creating many connections in their brain. When lead instead of essential nutrients is "available" to the body to make bones, muscle, and brain connections, permanent harm to health can occur. Even at  levels below current standards, lead can be harmful and be associated with:

  • Learning disabilities resulting in a decreased intelligence (decreased IQ)
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Behavior issues
  • Nervous system damage
  • Speech and language impairment
  • Decreased muscle growth
  • Decreased bone growth
  • Kidney damage

High levels of lead are life threatening and can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and death.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has set a reference level of 5 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter. This level is not considered a safe threshold; instead it is meant to be a reference level to trigger public health action.

There is no known blood lead level for children without some level of risk for some of the adverse neurological effects of lead in children.

pregnant women

In pregnant women, there is sufficient evidence that maternal blood lead levels (BLL) <5 μg/dL is associated with reduced fetal growth or lower birth weight. BLL <10 μg/dL is associated with decreased postnatal growth, and concurrent BLL <10 μg/dL in children is associated with reduced head circumference, height, or other indicators of growth and delayed puberty.

additional resources

Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry - More information on the health effects of lead at different levels.