Childhood lead exposure

Lead exposure is dangerous for young children

Preventing early-life exposure to lead is important for life-long health. Elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) in young children are linked with adverse health effects, including learning problems, behavioral problems, and even death if exposures are very high. Children less than 6 years of age living in homes built before 1978 are most at risk for lead exposure. Younger children are at greater risk because their bodies absorb lead more easily and their brains are still developing.

Many houses built before 1978 have lead-based paint

Lead-based paint is a common source of lead exposure. People can be exposed to lead by breathing paint dust or accidentally eating paint chips or other materials contaminated with lead. Young children frequently put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead, into their mouths.

Take steps to prevent lead exposure

Photo of child's hand on a wall with chipping paint

Paint that is chipping, flaking, or peeling poses a greater risk for exposure to lead. Renters and homeowners who perform their own repairs and remodeling may disturb lead-based paint, which can expose children to lead. Anyone who repairs or remodels homes built before 1978 should follow lead-safe work practices. Learn more about Remodeling the Older Home.

Lead is not usually in the source of water. Water in the ground or water leaving a water treatment plant is most likely lead-free. Lead gets into drinking water when it passes through plumbing and distribution systems in the home that have lead in their parts. Here are five ways to keep your household safe from lead:

  1. Test your water if you think there is lead in your plumbing and someone in your home is under 6 years or pregnant. 
  2. Use only cold water for cooking and drinking. 
  3. Let water run for 30 – 60 seconds before using it for drinking or cooking.
  4. Be aware of other sources of lead in your home, like paint and soil.
  5. Talk with your family, friends, and childcare providers about getting the lead out.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following actions may also help reduce or prevent childhood lead exposure:

  • Keep kids and pregnant women away from chipping or peeling paint.
  • Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and frequently wash a child's hands, pacifiers, and toys.
  • Check children's toys for lead, especially imported toys. Learn more from the CDC about lead in candy or toys and other potential Sources of Lead
  • If work or hobbies (e.g., painting, remodeling, auto repair, plumbing, battery manufacturing) involves working with lead-based products, take steps to prevent lead exposure in children. For example, be sure they shower and change clothes after finishing.

For more information about preventing childhood lead exposure, see the MDH Lead & Healthy Homes Program's Fact Sheets and Brochures.

What is being done about childhood lead exposure?

The MDH Lead & Healthy Homes Program is a leader for childhood lead exposure prevention efforts statewide and implements the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) cooperative agreement from the CDC, which contributes toward the elimination of childhood lead exposure as a public health problem. The MDH Lead & Healthy Homes Program provides lead exposure prevention education, support to individuals exposed to lead, and assistance to contractors and property owners in addressing lead issues.

Efforts to reduce lead exposure may mean fewer cases of childhood EBLLs in Minnesota:

  • U.S. Housing rehabilitation programs, like those funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), focus on making homes lead-safe. 
  • Lead has been eliminated from paint, gasoline, and many consumer products and children's toys. 
  • Lead-related manufacturing has introduced greater controls to reduce occupational and environmental lead exposures. 

However, each year there are still nearly 700 Minnesota children who have elevated blood lead levels. Reducing this number to zero will require ongoing efforts to eliminate sources of lead in the environment, prevent exposure to lead, and to detect rising blood lead levels sooner.

Childhood blood lead testing is not universal throughout Minnesota

Testing the blood lead levels of children can help catch lead exposure before it has the most harmful effects. Lead testing is not universal in Minnesota. For more information see more in-depth information under View Charts.

Related topics: