FFFLead Exposure In Children Affects Brain And Behavior

No. 45; Updated October 2023

Lead exposure is one of the most common preventable poisonings of childhood. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that 6% of all children ages 1-2 years and 11% of black (non-Hispanic) children ages 1-5 years have blood lead levels in the toxic range. Lead is a strong poison that can affect individuals at any age, and there is no safe level of lead in children's blood. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because of their rapidly developing nervous systems are very sensitive to the effects of lead. So, it is very important for parents to know about lead.

How Are Children Exposed to Lead?

Lead can be found in many places in the environment. The most common sources include lead paint and lead found in water and soil. Houses or apartments built before 1978 have the greatest risks of containing lead-based paint or water pipes that have lead in them. Some children may unknowingly play in lead dust or swallow chips of paint (eating unusual/non-nutritious things is called pica) which increases their risk of high lead levels in their blood.

What Does Lead Do to a Child?

Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child's development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive, and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth, and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

What To Do if You are Concerned About Lead?

Make sure your child sees a doctor early in their life and ask if they should have a blood test for lead as part of their routine healthcare. Early identification and treatment of lead poisoning reduces the risk that children will suffer permanent damage. Treatment begins with removal of the lead from the child’s environment. Medications can remove lead from the body if there are high levels. Your doctor can give you more information about treatment including medical, psychiatric, or learning help.

For additional information about lead poisoning, contact your physician, county, or state Department of Health. You can also contact:

Alliance for Healthy Homes (AFHH)
227 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20002