What is lead?

Lead is a poisonous metal that is especially dangerous to babies and young children and can harm them even before they are born. Lead poisoning can damage children’s nervous systems, brains and other organs. It can also lead to additional health, learning and behavioral problems.

Where is lead found?

Lead is most often found in lead-based paint, in dust that is formed when lead-based paint is scraped, sanded or worn down through use, and in soil that becomes contaminated with peeling, lead-based paint. Lead can also be found in:

  • Water.
  • Leaded crystal glassware.
  • Lead-glazed pottery and ceramic ware.
  • Some hobby equipment.
  • Cosmetics, such as kohl.
  • Home remedies such as "greta," a Mexican folk remedy (taken commonly for stomachache or intestinal illness) and "azarcon" (a folk remedy that usually contains substantial amounts of lead).

Also, painted toys and furniture, especially if they are older, may contain lead.

How do children get lead poisoning?

Children mainly get lead poisoning by ingesting lead-based paint used in houses that were built before 1978. Lead paint gets into children’s systems when they:

  • Eat or handle peeling paint chips and flakes that contain lead
  • Put their hands, toys and other items covered with lead dust in their mouths
  • Breathe lead dust
  • Chew on windowsills, furniture and door frames and other items covered with lead-based paint
  • Drink water from older water pipes that may leach lead

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

Unfortunately, many cases of lead poisoning have no symptoms. Even healthy-looking children can have high levels of lead in their bodies. Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

  • Cramps
  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning problems
  • Changes in behavior
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia