Protect Your Family from Lead

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Coming into contact with lead can cause problems with kids' learning, behavior, and development. That’s why it’s important to take steps to protect your family.

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 for health problems from lead?

Children under age 6 and pregnant women are most at risk for problems related to coming into contact with lead.

  • When children are young, their bodies are still growing and are more sensitive to the harmful effects of lead.
  • If a pregnant woman has too much lead in her body, it can increase her risk for miscarriage (losing the baby). Lead can also pass from the pregnant mother to her unborn baby.

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.

How do people come into contact with lead?

Paint in homes or other buildings that were built before 1978 often has lead in it. When old paint cracks and chips, it creates lead dust. Children can then breathe in this lead dust or swallow it when it gets on their hands and toys.

Lead can also be found in the soil around your home, drinking water, and products with old paint, like toys, furniture, and jewelry. Learn more about sources of lead.

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The Basics: Safety Tips

Keep your family safe from lead.

If your home was built before 1978, have it tested for lead paint. You can also use this Home Danger Zone Finder to see which spots in your home could contain lead.

Take these steps to keep your children safe:

  • Keep them away from lead paint that is chipping or peeling.
  • Wash their hands and toys often.
  • Ask a doctor to test your children for lead if you have any concerns.

If you are pregnant, it’s important for you to stay away from lead paint that is chipping or peeling.

To learn more about protecting your family from lead :

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Take Action!

Take Action: Protect Your Family

You can help protect your family from lead by taking these simple steps.

Keep children away from lead dust.

If you live in a home built before 1978, treat all paint as if it has lead in it. To keep kids from swallowing or breathing in lead:

  • Keep children away from rooms with chipping or peeling paint.
  • Cover peeling or chipping paint with duct tape or contact paper.
  • Use a wet paper towel or mop to clean up dust regularly, especially around windows and on the floor.

Renovate safely.

If you live in an older home and you are doing any home remodeling or repairs, be sure to follow lead-safe work practices. Keep children away from the work area. If you are pregnant, you’ll also need to stay away during any remodeling or repairs.

Wash your child’s hands and toys.

Lead dust from chipping and peeling paint can get on children’s hands and toys. Wash hands and toys often, especially before eating and sleeping.

Play this podcast with a “Happy Handwashing” song for your child.

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Take Action: Test Your Home

Test your home for lead.

If you live in a home built before 1978, have your home tested, or inspected, for lead paint by a licensed lead inspector. Ask the inspector about testing your soil and water, too.

To learn more, contact your local health department. Ask if they have a program to inspect your home for lead at no cost to you.

What if I rent my home?

Ask your landlord to have your home tested for lead. Your local health department can tell you about your landlord’s responsibilities.

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Take Action: Test Your Child

Test your child for lead.

People who have been in contact with lead don’t have any signs or symptoms. A lead test is the only way to know for sure if your child has come into contact with lead.

A lead test measures the amount of lead in your child’s blood. If you are worried about lead, ask your child’s doctor or nurse to test your child for lead.

If your child has a high lead level, do these 5 things to help lower your child's lead level [PDF - 190 KB].

What about cost?

Medicaid covers – and requires – a blood lead test for children ages 12 months and 24 months. And the Affordable Care Act (the health care reform law passed in 2010) requires private insurance plans to cover lead screening for children who are at high risk for coming into contact with it.

Check with your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services for children that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

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