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Lead Poisoning Overview

Most lead-poisoned children present with no obvious symptoms. If present, symptoms typically are nonspecific complaints, such as stomachache, irritability, headache, fatigue, or loss of appetite. Blood lead level (BLL) testing is the best way to diagnose lead poisoning.

Clinical Signs & Symptoms

No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.

​Blood Lead Level

Possible Health Effects​

​less than 10 mcg/dL
Decreased IQ, neurodevelopmental impairment, no blood lead level known to be without a deleterious effect
​10–44 mcg/dL Behavior problems (hyperactivity, irritability), overt physical symptoms rare​
​45–69 mcg/dL Lethargy/fatigue, anemia, abdominal symptoms (pain, constipation, nausea/vomiting)​
​70–100 mcg/dL Nephropathy, colic, encephalopathy​, seizures
​> 100 mcg/dL Central nervous system (CNS) crisis (cerebral edema, ischemia, seizure, coma, possible death)​

Risk FactorsGettyImages-178164812

Age: under 6 years (peak risk: ages 1–2 years)

  • More time spent on floor
  • Increased hand-to-mouth behavior
  • High gastrointestinal absorption of lead
  • Rapid central nervous system development
  • Impacts critical periods of brain development 

Children Enrolled in or Eligible for Services from a Publicly Funded Program for Low-Income Children

  • Medi-Cal
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
  • Child Health and Disability Prevention Program (CHDP)
  • Head Start

Lives or spends significant amounts of time in pre-1978 housing or buildings

  • Paint in poor condition
  • Undergoing renovation
  • Exposure to lead-contaminated dust or soil
  • Lives near source of lead air emissions
    • Highways
    • Industrial
    • A general aviation airport used by small aircraft
  • Exposure to lead-contaminated water source

Contact with Lead-Contaminated Consumer Products

Including some:

  • Jewelry
  • Toys
  • Vinyl/Plastics
  • Art and Hobby Supplies
  • Types of dishware (traditional, imported, handmade, older, or damaged) 
  • Other consumer products

Consumption or Use of Lead-Contaminated Food, Remedies, or Cosmetics

Including some:

  • Foods such as chapulines, candy, spices
  • Remedies and supplements
  • Traditional cosmetics and religious / ceremonial powders


  • Family or household member who works with lead
  • Recent immigration/foreign adoptee from region with high environmental lead contamination, or spends time outside of the U.S.
  • Family or household member with hobby exposure (e.g., stained glass, welding, ceramics, firearms, fishing)
  • Sibling with elevated blood lead level
  • Mother with history of lead exposure/lead poisoning
  • Pica (ingestion of non-food items such as paint chips, dirt, plaster, clay, pottery)


Toxicological Profile for Lead, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

Sources of Lead Exposure


Lead-based paint (pre-1978)

It may have been used both inside and outside of a home or on objects such as furniture.  Children may eat paint chips or chew on the surfaces of windows, woodwork, walls, doors, or railings.

Further information on housing and abatement

Lead-contaminated soil

Lead may be in the soil where children play, especially near busy roadways or factories.  The lead from gasoline used for many years has settled onto soil and is difficult to remove.  Lead in soil may also be from other sources of air emissions and deteriorated lead-based paint on homes.  This soil may also be tracked inside on shoes and clothing.

Lead-contaminated dust from paint or soil

Lead clings to windowsills, floors, doorways and children's toys, and is dangerous to young children who crawl and often put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

Take-home exposure

Children can be exposed to the lead in dust brought home on clothing, equipment, or in the car or truck driven from work, as well as lead in dust that comes from hobbies that use lead. 

Further information on lead exposure related to work, hobbies or other activities



Some candies, especially those that contain chili, have been found to contain lead.  Lead has also been found in wrappers and ceramic candy containers.

Food and Spices

Lead has been found in some food including chapulines (grasshoppers), sweet cured plums, spices, and food in cans with lead solder (these cans have wide seams, and are not used in the U.S.)

NEW  Baby Food

Traditional Remedies

Some remedies imported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico have been found to contain lead. 


Lead has been found in products typically used as cosmetics or in religious ceremonies.

Imported or Handmade Pottery and Tableware with Leaded Glaze

The lead from the glaze can leach into food and beverages when these ceramics are used for cooking or storing food.

Consumer Products


Lead has been found in children's jewelry and costume jewelry.  Children can be exposed to lead by handling, mouthing, or swallowing the jewelry.

Other Consumer Products

Lead has been found in toys, vinyl lunch boxes, and other consumer products.

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