Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning

By Allison Browne, MPH Lead Screening Promotion Coordinator
Office of Environmental Public Health Sciences
Washington State Department of Health

Did you know that the week of October 20th to 26th is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week?

Exposure to lead can cause serious damage to a child’s development. If lead gets into a child, it can cause brain and kidney damage, as well as make it hard for them to learn, pay attention, and behave properly.

Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick, so a blood lead test is the only way to tell if a child has been exposed to lead. Anyone can be affected by lead, but children under 6 years of age and pregnant women are most at risk. The most common source of exposure is from lead-based paint in older homes built before 1978. When paint chips or wears down, it creates dangerous dust that children can breathe in or swallow.

The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable! Learn about lead exposure risk and prevention tips below. Resources are also available for children with lead poisoning. The WA State Department of Health or local health jurisdiction can help find and get rid of the lead source. Families may also be connected with resources, like nutrition and developmental services, to support the child’s health.

Children should receive a blood lead test if they:

  • Live in or regularly visit a home built before 1978, especially if it has had recent repairs
  • Have a sibling or friend with an elevated blood lead level
  • Come from a country outside the U.S.
  • Have a parent or caregiver who works with lead, either at their job or their hobby
  • Use traditional remedies or cosmetics, such as greta/azarcon or kohl/surma
  • Have Apple Health/Medicaid

Lead exposure prevention tips

Keep the home clean and dust-free. Regularly wipe surfaces with a wet rag around high-friction areas such as windows and doors, as well as where children play.

Wash children’s hands often, especially before eating and sleeping.

Wash toys, stuffed animals, pacifiers, and bottles with soap and water often.

Feed children a well-balanced diet, including foods high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead.

Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. Hot water may contain higher levels of lead.

If a parent works with lead, use separate work clothes and shoes. Shower before coming home or as soon as arriving home. Put dirty work clothes in a plastic bag and wash them separately from other clothes.

Avoid using imported pottery, dishware, and ceramics for food and drinks if unsure whether they contain lead.

If you think your child has had any contact with lead, ask their doctor for a blood lead test at their next well-child visit.

Catching lead exposure early helps support your child’s healthy development.

For more information, visit
©Washington State Department of Health