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Health Topics

Childhood Lead Poisoning

picture of a child peeling paint off a windowsill Childhood lead poisoning is preventable.

Approximately 500,000 U.S. children aged 1-5 years have blood lead levels greater than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (mcg/dL), the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends public health interventions.


view data about childhood lead poisoning


What is lead?

Lead is a metallic element found in the earth’s crust. Because lead is an element, it does not break down or decay over time. Lead can be released into the environment during human activities such as mining, manufacturing, burning fossil fuels, and disturbing lead paint by sanding or scraping. Once put into the environment, lead can be a potential problem forever.

What are the health effects of lead poisoning?

Too much lead in the body can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. In children, exposure to lead may result in:

  • Behavioral Problems
  • Decreased Intelligence
  • Learning Disabilities

How can I tell if my child suffers from lead poisoning?

Children with lead poisoning may not look or act sick. Even if a child shows some signs of lead poisoning, these symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses. At very high levels of lead in the blood, symptoms may include vomiting, lapses in consciousness, seizures, coma and even death.

The only way to tell if a child is lead poisoned is by having a blood lead test. A blood lead test measures the amount of lead in blood. Blood tests are commonly used to screen children for lead poisoning and can be easily conducted at a child’s regular check-up. 

How are children exposed to lead?

Lead paint and dust from lead paint are the main sources of lead exposure for children. Children can be exposed to lead by eating, chewing or sucking on objects that contain lead or by breathing or swallowing house dust or soil that contains lead. The normal behavior of young children crawling, exploring, teething and putting objects in their mouths, can put them into contact with any lead present in their environment. Other sources of exposure include lead from a parent’s job or hobby, lead in plumbing fixtures, lead in soil, lead in pottery, and lead in imported products.

How can I reduce the risk of lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning is a serious but preventable health problem. Keep your children away from sources of lead and follow these recommendations:

  • Ask a doctor to test your child if you are concerned about him or her being exposed to lead.
  • Avoid using home remedies (such as azarcon, greta, and pay-loo-ah) and cosmetics (such as kohl and alkohl) that contain lead.
  • Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and frequently wash your child's hands, pacifiers, and toys to reduce exposure to lead in houses with lead.
  • Take basic steps to decrease your exposure to lead if you remodel buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies involve working with lead-based products.
  • Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead if you live in a house or apartment built before 1978, especially if young children live with you or visit you.
  • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making baby formula. Hot water is more likely than cold water to contain higher levels of lead, and most of the lead in household water usually comes from plumbing in the house, not from the local water supply.

What treatments are available?

The most important treatment for lead poisoning is to prevent or reduce lead exposure. Properly removing the lead from a person's environment helps to ensure that their blood lead levels will decline to safe levels. The longer a person is exposed to lead, the greater the likelihood that developmental problems or illness will occur. At very high blood lead levels, physicians may prescribe medications to lower blood lead levels in a treatment known as chelation therapy.

What data are included about childhood lead poisoning in New Hampshire’s Tracking program?

The available data related to childhood lead poisoning focus on childhood blood lead levels, number of houses built before 1950 and number of children under age 5 living in poverty. Childhood blood lead levels are provided in two overall categories: Birth Cohort Data and Annual Data. Birth cohort data represents groups of individuals born during the same year. For blood lead data in Tracking, a birth cohort is a set of children born in a particular calendar year who are then followed until they reach their third birthday. Annual lead data in Tracking starts with the year 2000 and has year-by-year information for more than a decade.

view data about childhood lead poisoning

Where can I learn more about lead poisoning?

New Hampshire Environmental Public
Health Tracking Program
NH Department of Health and Human Services,
Division of Public Health Services
29 Hazen Drive  |  Concord, NH 03301
(603) 271-4988  |  (800) 852-3345 ext.4988