Baby chewing on toy. Text states: Ask your doctor to test your child for lead

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Lead Poisoning

Lead is a harmful metal that can cause serious health problems. Lead is especially dangerous for children and pregnant people, but it can harm anyone.

Lead is often found in old paint. Lead paint, and the dust it turns into, is the most commonly identified source of childhood lead exposure in New York City. The most commonly identified sources of lead exposure for adults who work in the construction industry are job-related. Pregnant adults are more likely to be exposed to non-occupational sources of lead, such as certain consumer products found to contain lead.

Some foods, spices, medicines, ceramic ware and cultural powders from areas around the world have been found to contain lead. Learn more about these and other types of hazardous consumer products. Lead can also be found in soil and old plumbing.

Health Risks

Lead can get in your body by touching a product, surface or soil that has lead or is covered with lead dust, then putting your hands in your mouth. It can also get in your body if you eat, swallow or mouth a product that has lead.

Workers may be exposed to lead by breathing in lead dust or lead fumes during construction activities that disturb old, lead-based paint, such as renovations, repairs and demolition.

Learn more about the risks of lead exposure around you and how to avoid it:

  • Children and Pregnant People: Lead exposure can lead to learning and behavior problems in children. Exposure during pregnancy can cause high blood pressure and miscarriage and can affect the unborn baby.

  • Adults (PDF): Lead exposure can cause high blood pressure and brain, kidney and reproductive health issues in adults.

Sources of Lead Exposure

  • At Home: More than half of the city’s residential buildings were built before lead paint was banned in 1960. Many of these older buildings still have lead paint on their walls, windows, doors and other surfaces. Keep children away from peeling or damaged paint. Clean up paint chips and dust by wet wiping areas. Report peeling paint to your property owner. New York City building owners are required to identify and safely fix lead paint hazards in apartments with young children.

  • Work and Hobbies: Workers or hobbyists can be exposed by breathing in lead dust or lead fumes when working with metal, paint, pigments or glazes that contain lead. Employers are required by law to protect workers from lead exposure.

  • Drinking Water: Lead can enter drinking water from plumbing materials, such as pipes, faucets and fixtures made with lead metal. Use only cold tap water to make baby formula and for drinking and cooking. Run the water for at least 30 seconds, until the water is noticeably colder.

  • Soil: Lead may be found naturally in soil or may be the result of past human activities, such as manufacturing and construction. Garden safely to avoid exposure to contaminated soil.

  • Hazardous Consumer Products: Some health remedies, foods, jewelry, toys and other items have high levels of lead and other dangerous metals, even if they are not listed on the product labels. The more often you use these products, the greater the health risk.

Get Tested for Lead Poisoning

Most people with lead poisoning do not look or feel sick. The only way to know if lead exposure has occurred is to get a blood lead test. If you think you or other family members are at risk for lead poisoning, ask your doctor for a blood lead test. For help finding a doctor, call 311.

Testing Requirements/Recommendations

  • Children: New York State requires that health care providers test all 1- and 2-year-old children for lead. Children should also be assessed for lead exposure by their doctor every year until they are 6 years old.

  • Pregnant people: Doctors should assess pregnant people for lead exposure during their first prenatal visit.

  • Workers: Workers at risk for lead exposure because of their job should be monitored by their employer. If you work around lead, find out if your employer has a blood lead monitoring program. If not, speak with your doctor about getting a blood lead test.

For more information on lead, call 311 and ask for Healthy Homes Information.

Lead Guides for English as a Second Language (ESOL)

The ESOL focus is lead poisoning prevention. The lessons feature brief narrative and non-narrative readings and linked activities in a fillable PDF ready for use in synchronous or asynchronous sessions.

Educational Resources

Additional Resources

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