Dangers of lead

Dangers of lead

Lead poisoning is dangerous and can cause lasting health effects on babies and children. It is very important to prevent children from being harmed by lead.

Lead is a dangerous chemical that was used in interior household paint until 1978. If your home was built before 1978, it’s possible that there’s lead paint in your home. Lead paint is dangerous when it begins to chip, or when dust from the paint gets into the air.

Learn more about sources of lead.

Risk to children

Children younger than 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Most children who have lead poisoning get it from lead dust in homes built before 1978. When old paint cracks and peels, it creates lead dust. Lead dust from chipping paint can settle on the ground and other surfaces and get on children’s hands.

The City of Philadelphia encourages all children under age 6 to have their lead levels tested at age 1 and again at age 2. You cannot tell if your child has an elevated lead level from their behavior. The only way to know is to get them tested.

Even small amounts of lead can severely affect a child’s mental and physical development. Some of the effects of lead poisoning may never go away. At very high levels, lead exposure can be fatal.

Lead exposure can cause:

  • Speech and language problems.
  • Developmental delays.
  • Decreased bone and muscle growth.
  • Poor muscle coordination.
  • Damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing.
  • Seizures and unconsciousness (in cases of extremely high lead levels).

If a child has elevated lead levels

If your child has a lead level of 10 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) or higher, a member of the Lead and Healthy Homes Program will contact you. They will come to your home to help you determine the source of the lead and what you can do to keep your family safe. This service is free.

If you are a homeowner and can’t afford the necessary repairs, the City may help you get them for free. If you rent your home, the City will work with your landlord to make the property safe for your family.

Risk in pregnancy

Lead can pass from a pregnant person to an unborn baby. If you have too much lead in your body, it can:

  • Put you at risk for miscarriage.
  • Cause your baby to be born too early or too small.
  • Hurt your baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system.
  • Cause your child to have learning or behavioral problems.

If you are pregnant, you should:

  • Avoid any home repairs that could put you in contact with lead paint dust.
  • Avoid working in an environment where you may be exposed to lead dust.

Risk to adults

Lead is dangerous to everyone, but it is much more dangerous to children than it is to adults.

For adults, lead can cause serious health damage at levels of 40 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) or higher. This is four times higher than the level of concern for children (10 ug/dL).

Working with lead

Adult exposure usually occurs when someone works in an environment where they are exposed to lead.

People can also be exposed to lead through the use of lead-contaminated products.

If someone in your household works with lead dust, have them change clothes when they get home. Keep work shoes outside and wash all work clothes separately from the rest of the family laundry.

If you are concerned about adult exposure to lead, talk with your doctor.


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