Lead Poisoning: Children and Pregnant Women

Lead is a poison that can harm children and cause health problems during pregnancy. Younger children are more at risk for lead exposure.

Lead exposure in children can cause:

  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Hearing and speech problems

Lead exposure during pregnancy can cause:

  • High blood pressure
  • Miscarriage
  • Babies born too soon or too small
  • Learning and behavior problems in the child

In New York City, the most commonly identified source of lead exposure for children is peeling lead paint and its dust. The City banned the use of lead paint in homes in 1960, but many older buildings still have lead paint on their walls, windows, doors, and other surfaces. Lead dust from peeling, cracked or loose paint or unsafe home repairs can land on windowsills, floors, surfaces and toys and other objects people touch. When young children play on the floor and put their hands and toys in their mouths, they can swallow lead dust.

Lead can also be found in some traditional spices, ceramics, medicines, cosmetics, toys and jewelry from other countries. It can also be in soil and plumbing.

Pregnant women exposed to lead when they were younger may still have lead in their body and could pass it on to the unborn baby.

Avoid Exposure

Get Tested for Lead

Most people with lead poisoning do not look or feel sick. A blood lead test is the only way to know for sure if you or your child has been exposed to lead.

In New York State, children must be tested for lead poisoning at age 1, and again at age 2. Ask your doctor about testing older children if you think they may have been exposed to lead.

Pregnant women should be assessed for lead exposure at their first doctor’s visit.

If you think you or your family members are at risk for lead poisoning, ask a health care provider for a blood lead test. Call 311 for help finding a provider or clinic.

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