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How to protect your child from lead exposure

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Lead can have harmful effects on young children and pregnant women. No amount of lead exposure is safe. Exposure to lead can cause developmental delays and behavioral issues, especially for children under age six. This is because these young children are growing quickly and tend to put objects in their mouths. Pregnant women should also avoid being exposed to lead, since their baby can be affected too.  

Lead poisoning happens when lead builds up in the body for months or years. Children with lead poisoning often do not look sick. However, some have headaches, feel tired, misbehave or have trouble paying attention or learning. 

The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable! You can protect your family by knowing what causes lead poisoning and how to avoid lead exposure.  

How could my child be exposed to lead?  

There are several main causes of lead poisoning in children.  

  • Lead paint in homes built before 1978.  
  • Lead dust that comes from when old paint cracks and peels.   
  • Soil.   
  • Plumbing.   
  • Drinking tap water.   
  • Some foods and medicines from outside the United States.  
  • Some toys. Make sure that your children do not play with: 
    • Toys that have been recalled 
    • Toys made before 1978. 
  • Greta and azarcón. These are Hispanic traditional remedies for digestive issues that have been given to babies and young children. Greta and azarcón are very dangerous because they have a lead content as high as 90%.  

Tip: The CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention page gives more information on where you might find lead at home.

If you think your child has been exposed to lead, bring them to their doctor right away for a lead test.

 How can I protect my family from lead exposure?  

The following actions can help protect your family from lead exposure.   

  • Remove harmful items that may include lead in and around the home.   
  • Make sure you and your family wash your hands often.  
  • Limit the time your children play in dirt.   
  • Make sure your child eats meals high in iron, calcium and vitamin C. Good nutrition can help slow lead absorption.   

Ask your child’s doctor to give you information on lead exposure. Your child should have a lead test at ages 1 and 2 years old. If your child is older and never got a test for lead, they should get one by age 6.  

For more information about how to protect yourself and your family from lead exposure, visit the CDC’s page on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. 

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About the contributor:

Kristin Rath

Kristin Rath is a Communications Content Specialist at Central California Alliance for Health (the Alliance). She works with the health plan’s experts to write on a wide range of health care and wellness topics, including checkups, vaccines, behavioral health and food security. Kristin has been with the Alliance since 2019. She holds Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees in communications.

Written in collaboration with subject matter expert: Britta Vigurs, Quality Improvement Program Advisor