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Lead screening

Coming into contact with lead can cause problems with kids' learning, behavior, and development. You can come into contact with lead by swallowing it or breathing it in. In the United States, most people come into contact with lead from paint in homes built before 1978.

Who is at risk

Children under the age of 6 years old are at risk because they are growing so rapidly and because they tend to put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths.

  • Paint that was used on both the interior and exterior of houses through the 1950s contained higher concentrations of lead than that of houses built in later years.
  • Lead-contaminated soil is an important source of lead intake for children.
  • Water is an important but often overlooked source of exposure for children, especially for infants who are formula fed.
  • Current sources of airborne lead include lead battery recycling operations, piston engine aircraft, and incinerators.


People who come into contact with lead don’t have any signs or symptoms.

What you can do

  • Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
  • Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • Children and pregnant women should not be present in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation. They should not participate in activities that disturb old paint or in cleaning up paint debris after work is completed.
  • Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources. Until environmental clean-up is completed, you should clean and isolate all sources of lead. Close and lock doors to keep children away from chipping or peeling paint on walls. You can also apply temporary barriers such as contact paper or duct tape, to cover holes in walls or to block children’s access to other sources of lead.
  • Regularly wash children’s hands and toys. Hands and toys can become contaminated from household dust or exterior soil.
  • Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components. Because household dust is a major source of lead, you should wet-mop floors and wet-wipe horizontal surfaces every 2-3 weeks. Windowsills and walls can contain high levels of leaded dust. They should be kept clean. If feasible, windows should be shut to prevent abrasion of painted surfaces or opened from the top sash. Take off shoes when entering the house to prevent bringing lead-contaminated soil in from outside.
  • Prevent children from playing in bare soil; if possible, provide them with sandboxes. Plant grass on areas of bare soil or cover the soil with grass seed, mulch, or wood chips, if possible. Until the bare soil is covered, move play areas away from bare soil and away from the sides of the house. If you have a sandbox, cover the box when not in use to prevent cats from using it as a litter box. That will help protect children from exposure to animal waste.

Preventive service at no cost

Lead screening for children who are at high risk for coming into contact with it.

Why screening is important

People who come into contact with lead don’t have any signs or symptoms, but it can cause serious problems over time. Some effects of coming into contact with lead may never go away. High lead levels in children can cause behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, impaired growth, hearing problems, anemia and even death.

What the screening is

In the primary care office, primary prevention begins with education and counseling. A lead test measures the amount of lead in your child’s blood.


Children who have elevated blood lead concentrations need to be monitored until environmental investigations and remediation are complete and blood lead concentrations decline.

Additional tips

  • Avoid using traditional folk medicine and cosmetics that may contain lead;
  • Avoid eating candies imported from Mexico;
  • Avoid using containers, cookware, or tableware to store or cook foods or liquids that are not shown to be lead free;
  • Remove recalled toys and toy jewelry immediately from children.
  • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula (Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead. Most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply.);
  • Shower and change clothes after finishing a task that involves working with lead-based products such as stained glass, making bullets, or using a firing range.