Childhood Lead Poisoning


Lead is a type of metal that is found naturally on Earth. Lead is in all parts of our environment -- the air, the soil, and our homes.


While it has some beneficial uses, lead is toxic to humans. It can get into our bodies when we breathe in or swallow something that has lead in it or on it. 


Lead can affect almost every organ and system, but the main concern is the nervous system. Children under age 3 and pregnant people are at the highest risk of health impacts from lead. 


The good news? Lead poisoning is preventable.


What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning happens when too much lead gets into the body. In children, this can happen when they breathe in or swallow something contaminated with lead. 


What are the common sources of lead?

The most common way children get lead poisoning is from lead-based paint found in homes and apartments built before 1978. Since children tend to spend more time on the ground and put items in their mouths, they are more likely to be exposed.


Children can be exposed to lead-based paint if they:

  • Chew or eat paint chips.
  • Breathe in or swallow leaded dust.
  • Eat soil found around the home.


Other sources of lead include:

  • Dust and soil from industrial activities such as lead smelters, battery recycling plants, airports, or others that may release lead.
  • Water from plumbing fixtures in homes built before 1986.
  • Jobs and hobbies that involve lead-based products.
  • Some imported candies, spices, cosmetics, jewelry, traditional remedies, toys, and glazed pottery.

What are the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning?

Many children show no signs or symptoms when lead poisoned. A blood lead test is the best way to know if your child has been exposed to lead. Take this quick quiz to find out if your child needs to be tested.


Dangerous amounts of lead in children can cause:

  • Slowed growth.
  • Learning difficulties.
  • Behavioral problems.
  • Hearing and speech problems.
  • Digestive issues or loss of appetite.

What can you do to prevent lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning is preventable. Parents can take the following steps to protect their family from lead poisoning:

  • Talk to a health care provider about getting a blood lead test.
  • Keep children away from peeling or chipping paint.
  • Regularly clean floors with a wet mop.
  • Regularly wipe windowsills and other surfaces with a damp cloth.
  • Wash toys and hands often.
  • Don’t let children play in bare soil.
  • Remove or wipe shoes before entering your home.
  • Eat foods high in calcium, iron and vitamin C. This includes dairy products, lean meats, beans, fruits and vegetables.
  • Have your home tested for lead dust

What is the treatment for lead poisoning?

The most important part of treatment is preventing more exposure to lead by removing or reducing the source of contamination. If your child’s test shows elevated blood lead levels, a health care provider or public health agency will recommend next steps. These may include:

  • Follow-up testing.
  • Health education.
  • Exposure history questionnaire.
  • In-home lead assessment.
  • Medical treatment.

When should you see a health care provider?

Medicaid requires all enrolled children to be tested for lead at ages 12 and 24 months, or between 24 and 72 months if they have no record of ever being tested. 


If you think you or your child has been exposed to lead, see a health care provider. 


Health questions?

Contact ToxCall at (303) 692-2606 or cdphe_toxcall@state.co.us