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CHILDHOOD lead poisoning

Impact of Lead Exposure on Children

Lead is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust.  It can be found in all parts of our environment: the air, soil, water and inside our homes.   

The leading cause of lead poisoning is dust from lead-based paint, which was used in many homes until 1978. Lead enters the body primarily through inhalation and ingestion when babies and young children put their hands and other objects in their mouths that may contain lead from dust or soil. Lead exposure can also come from the following:
  - Hobbies such as making stained-glass windows, hunting, fishing and target shooting
  - Working with automobile batteries, painting and radiator repairs 
  - Drinking water that travels through lead pipes
There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.  Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.  Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect Intelligence Quotient (IQ), the ability to pay attention and academic achievement. Lead exposure can also cause ataxia, coma, convulsions, death, hyperirritability, stupor, constipation, sleep problems and aggression.  Effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected and, to date, there is no blood lead level in children that has been identified as safe.
The key to preventing lead poisoning in children is to stop children from coming into contact
with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead. By tracking children with lead
poisoning and sources of lead, we can:
      - Identify children at risk in order to target testing and resources.
      - Make case management services available to each child with lead poisoning .
      - Monitor progress towards eliminating childhood lead poisoning.
      - Identify and monitor trends in lead sources that are exposing children to lead .
      - Remove and reduce sources of lead.
      - Develop and evaluate interventions and programs. 
The PA EPHT Program works with the PA Department of Lead Surveillance Program which tracks and monitors childhood lead activity through the Pennsylvania National Electronic Disease Surveillance System. In Pennsylvania, it is mandatory that all lead test results be reported to the Department of Health.
CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program provides technical and financial assistance to state and local childhood lead poisoning prevention programs.  These programs are working to ensure that screening, lead-hazard reduction, new legislation and other prevention mechanisms occur throughout the country.
Living in housing built before 1978 is the most important risk factor for lead poisoning. The older a
home, the more likely it is to contain lead paint. Paint that is chipping, flaking, and peeling or
paint disturbed during home remodeling contributes to lead dust. It contaminates bare soil around a
home, and makes paint chips and dust containing lead accessible to children.
In the area of environmental public health, data on lead hazards, number of children tested and children who have high blood lead levels will be made available.  Due to newer construction of homes and the demolition of some housing units that were built prior to 1978, the amount of exposure from lead paint has decreased. However, other sources of lead still need to be monitored.  PA EPHT will continue to add more information about lead in water, soil and air to the website.  Data analysis and display tools will make it possible for parents, teachers, doctors and public health professionals to use this information to further decrease lead sources and lower the number of children who become lead poisoned. Also, educational materials such as pamphlets, posters and booklets will be provided to assist with ongoing education.
        - Ask a doctor to test your child if you are concerned about your child being exposed to lead.
        - 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.
        - Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and frequently wash a child’s hands, pacifiers and toys
          to reduce exposure to lead.
        - Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making baby formula. Hot water
          is more likely to contain higher levels of lead, and most of the lead in household water usually
          comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply.
        - Avoid using home remedies (such as azarcon, greta, pay-loo-ah) and cosmetics (such as kohl,
          alkohl) that contain lead.
        - Take basic steps to decrease your exposure to lead (i.e., by showering and changing clothes
          after finishing the task) if you remodel buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies
          involve working with lead-based products.


A blood test is available to measure the amount of lead in the blood and to estimate the amount of any recent exposure to lead. Blood tests are commonly used to screen children for lead poisoning and be easily conducted in a physician’s office.

The most important treatment for lead poisoning is to prevent or reduce the lead exposure. Properly removing the lead from a person’s environment helps to ensure a decline in blood-lead levels. The longer a person is exposed to lead, the greater the likelihood that damage to health will result.  At very high blood lead levels, physicians may prescribe medications to lower blood-lead levels in a treatment known as chelation therapy.
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