Lead exposure: Tips to protect your child

Lead exposure is preventable. Find out about common sources of lead exposure and what you can do to protect your child. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Young children are at the greatest risk of health problems related to lead exposure, including serious brain and kidney damage. Children age 3 and under are especially vulnerable because their ways of playing and exploring — such as crawling and putting objects in their mouths — increase their risk of contact with lead, and of lead entering their bodies through breathing or swallowing.

What are the common causes of lead exposure?

Children can be exposed to lead through many sources, including:

  • Prenatal exposure. Lead crosses the placenta. An infant typically has a blood-lead concentration level similar to his or her mother's.
  • Soil and water. Lead particles from a gasoline additive or paint can settle on soil and last for years, and lead and copper pipes soldered with lead can release particles into tap water.
  • Lead paint. The use of lead-based paints for homes, children's toys and household furniture has been banned in the United States since 1978. However, lead-based paint is still on walls and woodwork in many older homes and apartments, which can result in children eating lead-based paint chips. Glazes found on ceramics, china and porcelain also can contain lead, which leaches into food. Lead-based paint may be found in toys and other products produced abroad.
  • Children's products. Lead may be found in children's jewelry or products made of vinyl or plastic, such as bibs, backpacks, car seats and lunch boxes. A child can absorb lead found in these products by mouthing or chewing on them or can inhale lead if the product is burned, damaged or deteriorating.
  • Household dust. Household dust can contain lead from paint chips or soil brought in from outside.
  • Food. Food can be contaminated with lead during production, processing, packaging, preparation or storage. For example, vegetables may be grown in soil that contains lead, or exposed to exhaust from fuel that contains lead. Lead can leak into canned foods from tins manufactured with lead solder. And some food containers and pots contain lead, such as lead-glazed pottery and leaded crystal glassware.
  • Folk or home health remedies and certain cosmetics. Some traditional remedies, such as the indigestion treatments azarcon and greta, may contain lead. Also, some types of paints and pigments used in makeup and hair dye contain lead.
  • Artificial athletic fields. Artificial turf made of nylon or a nylon and polyethylene blend may contain unhealthy levels of lead dust, which could be inhaled or ingested by a child.
May. 17, 2012 See more In-depth