Get the Lead Out!

by Carol Berkowitz, M.D., President, American Academy of Pediatrics

Get the Lead Out!

Lead poisoning is one of the most preventable environmental health problems, yet nearly half a million children under age 5 in the U.S. have high blood levels of this metal, putting them at risk for health and developmental conditions. Babies can be exposed to lead in a variety of ways, but the most common is by inhaling lead dust particles released from old paint.

While most children with lead poisoning don’t have obvious symptoms until they reach school age (when learning and behavioral conditions may be detected), some with very high lead levels may have stomach pain, headaches, hearing loss, seizures, or anemia. Here’s how you can protect your little one.

Check your house history. If your home was built before 1978, the year that the use of lead in consumer paint was banned, you may have lead paint on your walls, doorjambs, or window frames. As paint ages, it can flake, chip, peel  — and be eaten by curious toddlers  — or come off in the form of dust.

If you suspect that your home may have lead paint, you can have it tested. (To find a testing company, call the National Lead Information Hotline at 800-532-3394.) The ideal way to reduce risk is to get rid of any lead paint. If possible, hire a certified contractor (required by law in some states), since removing it on your own may make the situation worse.

If you’ve painted over lead paint, check regularly to make sure that there aren’t any chipped or peeling areas. Try to control the amount of lead dust by mopping floors and sponging walls and horizontal surfaces weekly, using an all-purpose household cleanser. If you have access to one, clean carpets with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum.

Get the word on water. Ask your pediatrician or the local health department whether your area has a problem with lead in the water, and check to see if your home has lead pipes or pipes soldered with lead. Home water test kits are available or you can call the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791. If you have lead pipes, run the tap water for a minute in the morning before using it for drinking or cooking. And, as hot water can contain higher levels of lead, use cold water for mixing formula, drinking, and cooking.

Look out for hidden sources of lead. Keep your baby away from hobby materials, imported ceramic dishes (they can leach lead into food), vending machine toys, or old vinyl mini-blinds (these can release lead dust). To learn more about other hazards, visit

Voice your concerns. If you’re worried about lead exposure, talk to your pediatrician and ask about having your baby tested.