Lead poisoning

About Lead poisoning

Lead is a metal that is toxic to people. There is no safe level of lead in your body. It can cause learning and behavior problems, and delay physical growth and mental development.

In the past, it was used in gasoline, paint, ceramics, caulking, pipes and solder. In 1960, NYC banned the use of lead-based paint in homes. A national ban came into effect in 1978. Leaded gasoline was phased out beginning in the 1970’s. However, lead can still be found in some products and in our environment. Layers of lead paint may still be present in older buildings and can become dangerous when the paint chips or peels or is abraded, or when renovations or repairs are conducted without properly controlling dust. Families living in older, poorly maintained housing are at higher risk for lead poisoning.

Lead Hazards

People may be exposed to lead by absorbing, breathing or swallowing lead or lead dust.

The main source of childhood lead poisoning is lead-based paint in older, deteriorated housing. Children with lead poisoning may develop health, learning and behavioral problems. These effects can persist long after the exposure has stopped and a child’s blood lead level has declined. Fetal exposure to lead may also result in cognitive and developmental problems.

For adults, the main sources of lead poisoning are:

Childhood lead testing

All children should be tested for lead poisoning at ages one and two. Health care providers should also test other children found to be at risk and annually assess children from six months to six years of age for lead exposure risk.

In 2012, CDC established that a blood lead level of 5 mcg/dL is the reference level for exposure to lead in children. This level is used to identify children who have blood lead levels higher than most children’s levels.


To prevent exposure to lead hazards:

  • Call 311 if you live in a one- or two-family house with peeling paint and have a child under six years old. Ask for the Health Department’s Healthy Homes Program (HHP).
  • Call 311 if your landlord does not fix peeling paint, or if you think repair work is being done unsafely.
  • Wash floors, window sills, hands, toys and pacifiers often.
  • Do not use imported foods, spices, clay pots and dishes, medicines, toys and cosmetics that have been found to contain lead.

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