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What is Lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals causing of health effects.
Where is Lead Found?
Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from human activities including the use of fossil fuels including past use of leaded gasoline, some types of industrial facilities, and past use of lead-based paint in homes. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.
Lead may enter the environment from these past and current uses. Lead can also be emitted into the environment from industrial sources and contaminated sites, such as former lead smelters. While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million, mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites.
When lead is released to the air from industrial sources or vehicles, it may travel long distances before settling to the ground, where it usually sticks to soil particles. Lead may move from soil into ground water depending on the type of lead compound and the characteristics of the soil.
Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings.
Learn more about sources of lead exposure:
At schools and childcare facilities
In drinking water
In outdoor air
Who is at Risk?
Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil or from playing with toys with lead paint.
Adults, Including Pregnant Women
Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may also breath lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure as can certain folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.
Lead Exposure Data
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics monitors blood lead levels in the United States. Get information on the number of children with elevated blood lead levels, and number and percentage of children tested for lead in your area.
According to CDC (PDF): (2 pp, 241K, About PDF)
The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.
Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead level of concern if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. Experts now use a new level based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood (when compared to children who are exposed to more lead than most children). Currently that is 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. The new, lower value means that more children likely will be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.
EPA uses the CDC data to show trends on blood lead levels in children in America’s Children and the Environment.
What are the Health Effects of Lead?
See other TV and radio PSAs on lead
Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead.
In children, the main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system. Even very low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
Permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, and hearing problems
In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also be circulated from the mother’s blood stream through the placenta to the fetus. Lead in a pregnant woman’s body can result in serious effects on the pregnancy and her developing fetus, including:
Reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth
Find out more about lead's effects on pregnancy:
March of Dimes Healthy Pregnancy [exit EPA]
Effects of Workplace Hazards on Female Reproductive Health, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Lead can also be transmitted through breast milk. Read more on lead exposure in pregnancy and lactating women (PDF) (302 pp, 4.2MB).
Lead is also harmful to other adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:
Nervous system effects
Cardiovascular effects, in increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
Decreased kidney function
Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
Read more on the health effects of lead at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Lower Your Chances of Exposure to Lead
Simple steps like keeping your home clean and well-maintained will go a long way in preventing lead exposure. You can lower the chances of exposure to lead in your home, both now and in the future, by taking these steps:
Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration
Address water damage quickly and completely
Keep your home clean and dust-free
Clean around painted areas where friction can generate dust, such as doors, windows, and drawers. Wipe these areas with a wet sponge or rag to remove paint chips or dust
Use only cold water to prepare food and drinks
Flush water outlets used for drinking or food preparation
Clean debris out of outlet screens or faucet aerators on a regular basis
Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often
Teach children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors
Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead. See Lead and a Healthy Diet, What You Can Do to Protect Your Child (PDF) (10 pp, 376K, About PDF)
If you are having home renovation, repairs, or painting done, make sure your contractor is Lead-Safe Certified, and make sure they follow lead safe work practices (PDF) (12 pp, 6.83MB, About PDF)
Determine if your family is at risk for lead poisoning with the Lead Poisoning Home Checklist (PDF) (1 pg, 47K, About PDF).
Lead Home Page
Learn about Lead
Protect Your Family
Renovation, Repair and Painting Program
Evaluating and Eliminating Lead-Based Paint Hazards
Protect Your Family
Lead Free Kids Campaign
Visit leadfreekids.org for helpful information.
This page provides information on how you can reduce your family's risk of lead exposure and prevent lead poisoning.
On this page:
Sources of lead at home
How to make your home lead-safe
Protect your children where they learn and play
On other pages:
How lead exposure can affect your child
Sources of lead at home
Older homes and buildings
Soil, yards and playgrounds
Jobs and hobbies
Older Homes and Buildings
If your home was built before 1978, there is a good chance it has lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, but some states banned it even earlier. Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning.
Lead paint is still present in millions of homes, sometimes under layers of newer paint. If the paint is in good shape, the lead paint is usually not a problem. Deteriorating lead-based paint (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, damaged, or damp) is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
It may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as:
Windows and window sills
Doors and door frames
Stairs, railings, banisters, and porches
Be sure to keep all paint in excellent shape and clean up dust frequently. Read about simple steps to protect your family from lead hazards (PDF) (17pp, 674K, About PDF)
Lead in household dust results from indoor sources such as deteriorating lead-based paint.
Lead dust can also be tracked into the home from soil outside that is contaminated by deteriorated exterior lead-based paint and other lead sources, such as industrial pollution and past use of leaded gasoline. Read more about lead dust.
Renovation, repair or painting activities can create toxic lead dust when painted surfaces are disturbed or demolished. Learn more about hiring lead-safe certified contractors.
Pipes and solder — Lead is used in some water service lines and household plumbing materials. Lead can leach, or enter the water, as water flows through the plumbing. Lead pipes and lead solder were commonly used until 1986. Read more about lead in drinking water.
Soil, Yards and Playgrounds
Lead is naturally-occurring, and it can be found in high concentrations in some areas. In addition, soil, yards and playgrounds can become contaminated when exterior lead-based paint from houses or buildings flakes or peels and gets into the soil. Soil may also be contaminated from past use of leaded gasoline in cars, from industrial sources, or even from contaminated sites, including former lead smelters.
Lead in soil can be ingested as a result of hand-to-mouth activity that is common for young children and from eating vegetables that may have taken up lead from soil in the garden. Lead in soil may also be inhaled if resuspended in the air, or tracked into your house thereby spreading the contamination.
Check the exterior of your home, including porches and fences, for flaking or deteriorating lead-based paint that may contaminate soil in your yard or be tracked into your house. To avoid tracking contaminated soil into your house, put doormats outside and inside all entryways, and remove your shoes before entering.
To reduce exposure to lead, after playing or working outdoors, EPA recommends that children and adults leave their shoes at the door or use door mats, and wash their hands. To keep children from playing in soil near your home, plant bushes close to the house.
Also, older playground equipment can still contain old lead-based paint, and artificial turf and playground surfaces made from shredded rubber can contain lead. Take precautions to ensure young children do not eat shredded rubber, or put their hands in their mouth before washing them. Read more on playgrounds and artificial turf fields.
Lead in household dust results from indoor sources such as old lead paint on surfaces that are frequently in motion or bump or rub together (such as window frames), deteriorating old lead paint on any surface, home repair activities, tracking lead contaminated soil from the outdoors into the indoor environment, or even from lead dust on clothing worn at a job site.
Even in well-maintained homes, lead dust can form when lead-based paint is scraped, sanded or heated during home repair activities. Lead paint chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when the home is vacuumed or swept, or people walk through it. To reduce exposure to lead dust, it is especially important to maintain all painted surfaces in good condition, and to clean frequently, to reduce the likelihood of chips and dust forming. Using a lead-safe certified renovator to perform renovation, repair and painting jobs is a good way to reduce the likelihood of contaminating your home with lead-based paint dust.
Find a Lead-Safe Certified renovation firm near you.
Lead can be found in many products:
Painted toys, furniture and toy jewelry— That favorite dump truck or rocking chair handed down in the family, antique doll furniture, or toy jewelry could contain lead-based paint or contain lead in the material it is made from. Biting or swallowing toys or toy jewelry that contain lead can cause a child to suffer from lead poisoning.
Read more on lead in toys and toy jewelry.
Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more information about lead in consumer products, including toys, and about recalls of lead-containing products.
Cosmetics— Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s web site to read questions and answers on lipstick and lead.
Food or liquid containers— Food and liquids stored or served in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain can become contaminated because lead can leach from these containers into the food or liquid.
Visit the Food and Drug Administration for more information on lead in food and containers.
Plumbing products — Materials like pipes and fixtures that contain lead can corrode over time.
Lead can enter drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: even legally "lead-free" plumbing may contain up to eight percent lead. Beginning January 2014, changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act will further reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to 0.25 percent. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.
Corrosion is a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. A number of factors are involved in the extent to which lead enters the water including the chemistry of the water (acidity and alkalinity), the amount of lead it comes into contact with, how long the water stays in the plumbing materials, and the presence of protective scales or coatings inside the plumbing materials.
To address corrosion of lead and copper into drinking water, EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The LCR requires corrosion control treatment to prevent lead and copper from contaminating drinking water. Corrosion control treatment means systems must make drinking water less corrosive to the materials it comes into contact with on its way to consumers' taps.
Get information on your local drinking water system's water quality for lead through your drinking water quality report.
Test your home's drinking water.
Video: How Does Lead Get Into Drinking Water?
Jobs and Hobbies
You could bring lead home on your hands or clothes, or contaminate your home directly if you:
Work with lead and/or lead-based paint (for example, renovation and painting, mining, smelting, battery recycling, refinishing old furniture, autobody, shooting ranges).
Have a hobby that uses lead (for example, hunting, fishing, stained glass, stock cars, making pottery).
Lead can be found in shot, fishing sinkers and jigs, came and solder used in stained glass, weights used in stock cars, dyes and glazes used in pottery, and many other places.
If you have a job or hobby where you may come into contact with lead:
never put leaded materials (for example, fishing sinkers, lead came or solder for stained glass or leaded pottery clay or glaze) in your mouth,
avoid handling food or touching your mouth or face while engaged in working with lead materials and wash hands before eating or drinking following such activities,
shower and change clothes before entering your vehicle or coming home,
launder your work and hobby clothes separately from the rest of your family's clothes, and
keep all work and hobby materials away from living areas.
If someone in your family is a renovator or contractor working in older housing, find out more about lead-safe work practices.
Some folk remedies that contain lead, such as "greta" and “azarcon,” are used to treat an upset stomach. Some folk remedies for morning sickness, including "nzu", "poto" and "calabash chalk," contain dangerous levels of lead and other chemicals. Consuming even small amounts of lead can be harmful. Lead poisoning from folk remedies can cause serious and irreversible illness.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on lead in folk remedies.
How to make your home lead-safe
Check your home
Maintain your home’s condition
Before you renovate
Test your home's drinking water
Check Your Home
View and print a checklist that will help you determine if your family is at risk for lead poisoning (PDF) (1 pg, 47K, About PDF).
If your home was built before 1978, have your home tested for lead and learn about potential lead hazards. Fix any hazards that you may have. You can get your home checked in one or both of the following ways:
A paint inspection — Tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home, but does not tell you if the paint is a hazard or how to deal with it. This is most appropriate when you are buying a home or signing a lease, before you renovate, and to help you determine how to maintain your home for lead safety.
A risk assessment — Tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure such as peeling paint and lead dust, and tells you what actions to take to address these hazards. This is most helpful if you want to know if lead is causing exposure to your family now.
Have qualified professionals do the work. There are standards in place for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure the work is done safely, reliably, and effectively. You can have a combined risk assessment and inspection.
Locate a trained professional in your area who can evaluate and test your home for lead.
Learn more about testing your home for lead in paint, dust, and soil (PDF) (20 pp, 205K, About PDF)
Test your home's drinking water
Maintain Your Home’s Condition
It is very important to care for the lead-painted surfaces in your home. Lead-based paint in good condition is usually not harmful. If your home was built before 1978:
Regularly check your home for chipping, peeling, or deteriorating paint, and address issues promptly without excessive sanding. If you must sand, sand the minimum area needed, wet the area first, and clean up thoroughly.
Regularly check all painted areas that rub together or get lots of wear, like windows, doors, and stairways, for any signs of deterioration.
Regularly check for paint chips or dust – if you see some, remove carefully with a damp paper towel and discard in the trash, then wipe the surface clean with a wet paper towel.
Wipe down flat surfaces, like window sills, at least weekly with a damp paper towel and throw away the paper towel.
Mop smooth floors (using a damp mop) weekly to control dust.
Remember to test for the presence of lead and lead hazards by a lead professional – this will tell you where you must be especially careful.
Here are more tips to help you reduce or prevent your family’s exposure to lead dust. It’s best to follow these steps weekly.
Cleaning Uncarpeted Floors
Damp mopping, with standard sponge or string type mops and an all-purpose cleaner.
Standard vacuum cleaners if no visible dust or debris from chipping or flaking paint is present.
Mops with a scrubber strip attached.
Powered buffing or polishing machines, or vacuums with beater bars that may wear away the painted surface.
Cleaning Carpets and Rugs
Wet scrubbing or steam cleaning methods to remove stains.
Standard vacuum cleaners if no visible dust or debris from chipping or flaking paint is present. Use only vacuums with HEPA filters otherwise.
Dry sweeping of surface dust and debris.
Shaking or beating of carpets and rugs.
Cleaning or Dusting Walls and other Painted Surfaces
Soft, dampened, disposable cloths with an all-purpose cleaner.
Steel wool, scouring pads, and abrasive cleaners.
Solvent cleaners that may dissolve paint.
Excessive rubbing of spots to remove them.
Before you renovate
Find a lead-safe certified renovation firm in your area. Renovations, repair jobs and paint jobs in pre-1978 homes and buildings can create significant amounts of lead-based paint dust. If your contractor will disturb lead-based paint while renovating, repairing or painting your home, he or she must be trained in lead-safe work practices.
Read EPA's fact sheet on using a lead-safe certified contractor (PDF) (1 pg, 340K, About PDF).
If you are a do-it yourselfer, learn how to protect yourself and your family from exposure to lead-based paint.
If you are a renter, learn your rights.
Test your home's drinking water
Testing your home's drinking water is the only way to confirm if lead is present. Most water systems test for lead at a certain number of homes as a regular part of water monitoring. These tests give a system-wide picture of whether or not corrosion is being controlled but do not reflect conditions at each home served by that water system. Since each home has different plumbing pipes and materials, test results are likely to be different for each home.
You may want to test your water if:
your home has lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key), or
your non-plastic plumbing was installed before 1986.
You can buy lead testing kits in home improvement stores to collect samples to then send to a laboratory for analysis. EPA recommends sending samples to a certified laboratory for analysis; lists are available from state or local drinking water authority. Your water supplier may also have useful information, including whether the service line connecting your home to the water main is made of lead.
Access more local contact information for testing your water for lead or call EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.
If your home tests positive for lead:
Flush your pipes before drinking, and only use cold water for cooking and drinking. Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, flush your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes cold. Contact your water utility to verify flushing times for your area.
Consider replacing lead-containing plumbing fixtures. If you are considering this, keep in mind that the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires that only lead-free pipe, solder, or flux may be used in the installation or repair of a public water system, or any plumbing in residential or non-residential facility providing water for human consumption. "Lead-free" under the SDWA means that solders and flux may not contain more than 0.2 percent lead, and pipe, pipe fittings, and well pumps may not contain more than 8.0 percent lead. Beginning January 2014, changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act will further reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to 0.25 percent.
SDWA also requires plumbing fittings and fixtures intended to dispense water for human consumption (e.g., kitchen and bathroom faucets) meet a lead leaching standard. Those fittings and fixtures should be certified according to NSF/ANSI Standard 61 for lead reduction [exit EPA] .
Consider alternative sources or treatment of water. If you discover that you have high levels of lead in your home, you should consider using bottled water or a water filter. There are many home water filters that are certified for effective lead reduction, but devices that are not designed to remove lead will not work. Verify the claims of manufacturers by checking with independent certifying organizations. NSF International [exit EPA] and the Water Quality Association [exit EPA] provide lists of treatment devices they have certified.Underwriters Laboratories [exit EPA] is also a good resource for certified devices. Be sure to maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions to protect water quality.
Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for maintenance procedures. If not maintained properly, some treatment devices may increase lead and other contaminant levels.
Protect your children where they learn and play
Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. Learn what you can do to stop children from coming into contact with lead before they are harmed.
Test your child
Find out if your child has elevated levels of lead in his or her blood. Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. You can test your child for lead poisoning by asking your pediatrician to do a simple blood test. Children with elevated blood lead levels can have serious health effects. If you know your child has lead poisoning, talk to your pediatrician and local health agency about what you can do.
Check the condition of schools and childcare facilities
Although your home may be free of lead-based paint hazards, your child could still be exposed elsewhere, particularly if they spend time in a building built before 1978. Ask your child's school board or facilities manager if they regularly inspect for lead hazards. Here is a list of places to look:
Interior painted areas— Examine walls and interior surfaces to see if the paint is cracking, chipping, or peeling, and check areas on doors or windows where painted surfaces may rub together.
Exterior painted areas— Check exterior paint as well; it can flake off and contaminate nearby soil where children may play.
Surrounding areas— Be sure there are no large structures nearby with peeling or flaking paint that could contaminate the soil around play areas.
Cleaning practices— Make sure the staff washes any pacifiers, toys, or bottles that fall on the floor. Also, make sure the staff has the children wash their hands thoroughly after playing outside and before eating or sleeping.
Play areas— Look to see if areas where children play are dust-free and clean. Outside, check for bare soil and test for lead.
Playground equipment— Older equipment can contain lead-based paint.
Painted toys and furniture— Make sure the paint is not cracking, chipping, or peeling. Inquire about whether a childcare center's toys comply with the requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Also, ask about testing all of the drinking water outlets in the facility and on the playground, especially those that provide water for drinking, cooking, and preparing juice and infant formula. Read more about drinking water in schools and child care facilities.
Learn about Lead
Renovation, Repair and Painting Program
New Lead Highlights
On December 31, 2012, EPA published a Federal Register notice announcing a public comment period and public meeting, and requested information on whether RRP activities on public and commercial buildings might create lead-based paint hazards, and appropriate certification, training, and work practice requirements.
On December 28, 2012, EPA updated the lead hazard information document "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home." (PDF) (19 pp,, 1.6MB)
On December 3, 2012, HUD announced the 2013 Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Grant Program.
On November 14, 2012, EPA announced 16 enforcement actionsfor violations of the lead-based paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP).
Have More Questions?
Contact the Lead Hotline
Read Frequent Questions about Lead
EPA Regional Contacts
Common renovation, repair, and painting activities that disturb lead-based paint (like sanding, cutting, replacing windows, and more) can create hazardous lead dust and chips which can be harmful to adults and children. But with careful work practices and thorough clean-up, renovations can be done safely. EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule) lowers the risk of lead contamination from home renovation activities. It requires that firms performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and pre-schools built before 1978 be certified by EPA and use certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers to follow lead-safe work practices.
What is the purpose of the Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule?
The purpose of the Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule is to minimize exposure from lead-based paint dust during renovation, repair, or painting activities. This is a key efffort in reducing the prevalence of childhood lead poisoning, particularly lead poisoning caused by housing contaminated by renovation activities. This will also minimize exposure to older children and adults who are also adversely impacted by lead-based paint dust exposure. Lead paint was used in more than 38 million homes prior to its ban for residential use in 1978. This paint can form toxic dust when it is disturbed during normal home repair work. EPA's Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) program is designed to reduce lead contamination by training contractors in relatively simple lead-safe work practices, and certifying contractors to make sure that they follow lead-safe work practices. We also want consumers to choose firms that are certified. Given that lead poisoning can cause a wide range of physical, intellectual, emotional, and behavioral issues with societal and financial impacts, this program is prevention-based, cost-effective, and a long-term bargain.
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