Eco-Healthy Child Care® Fact Sheets:


Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal found in the environment. It is very harmful to health. Lead can be found inside a home with paint, water, consumer products (e.g. toys and costume jewelry), dust and soil. There is no safe level of lead exposure; lead can affect almost every organ and system in a person's body. Children are particularly risk to the harmful effects of lead exposure.

Health Concerns and Exposure Information

Lead accumulates in bones, muscles, and fat, creating a long-term source of low-level exposure inside the body.  The people most at risk to exposures are pregnant women, breast feeding mothers, and children under the age of six because they are in a rapid state of development (or nurturing a young child who is in a vulnerable state of development). Exposure to lead can contribute to a variety of issues to adults and children alike:

  • Behavioral and learning problems
  • Lower IQ
  • Hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia
  • Reproductive issues
  • Kidney damage
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Nerve disorders





Lead Is Especially Harmful to Children

Young children are at a greater risk of lead poisoning because of their natural and developmentally appropriate behaviors - such as putting their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects may contain lead and/or have lead contaminated dust on them.

A child's hands covered in blue paint.If children live or go to school in a place with high levels of lead in the paint or dust, their bodies can easily absorb the lead. A childs body reacts differently to lead, as compared to an adults body. Lead substitutes for calcium; young bodies need calcium, so children can absorb 50% of the lead they ingest, while adults only absorb about 10%. Additionally, because childrens brains and nervous systems are still developing, they are more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of lead.

Symptoms of lead poisoning can be easily overlooked, so prevention and testing are necessary.

Common Sites for Lead Exposure

Water flowing from an old faucet.

  • Children can be exposed to lead by ingesting or inhaling paint particles and dust from chipping, peeling or cracking pre-1978 contaminated paint.
  • Lead can get into tap water by leaching from lead pipes or other lead containing plumbing materials like solder or fixtures. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water.
  • Lead can contaminate soil via: dust from deteriorating leaded paint, major roadways from the past use of leaded gasoline in cars, or industrial sources (past or present) such as a battery recycling facility.
  • Living next door to a gas station, battery recycler, or other place that uses lead products can also expose children to lead via contaminated soil or water.
  • Lead may also be found in outdoor air from metals processing and piston-engine airplanes operating on leaded aviation fuel.

The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, however older buildings (houses, schools, or churches) can still have lead paint. Lead was also phased out of gasoline (used in cars and trucks) in the U.S. in the late 1970s and banned from use in pipes in public water systems in 1986.

Tips For Reducing Exposures

Safe Siting of Child Care Facilities

Consider potential lead contamination when choosing a new location of a child care facility. Visit the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry's Choose Safe Places for more information


Reducing Exposures:



  • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking, especially when making baby formula, as cold water is less likely to leach lead from pipes or fixtures.
  • Flush your water at the tap before each use and collect the water for non-potable activities. Contact your local water utility to gather more information on suggested flushing times.
  • Test your water for lead and if needed, use water filtration devices that have been certified to remove lead at the outlet. Visit the EPA for more info.

  • Learn about the source (public or private) of your water.
  • Find out if you have a lead service line and/or lead containing pipes, fixtures or solder. If your home was built after 1986 it most likely will not have a lead service line but it could still contain lead from solder or fixtures.
  • If your water comes from a community water system, call the water utility to see if they have records about lead service lines in your area. The water utility may also be able to inspect your home if records are unavailable. If the utility cannot help, or if your water comes from a private water supply, consider hiring a licensed plumber to investigate.


  • Frequently wash hands, especially after coming inside and before eating.
  • Supply a commercial walkoff mat at the entrance of your child care facility or remove shoes when coming inside.

A child holding up a piece of dirt with a small plant growing.

  • Vacuum often using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
  • Clean floors daily, and window frames, and window sills weekly - using a damp mop, sponge or paper towel with warm water and an all-purpose, fragrance-free cleaner.
  • Test any bare soil in or around your child care facility for lead.
  • Cover any bare soil with mulch or ground cover.

Consumer Products

  • Stay up to date on current products recalls by visiting the Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Certain childrens products are known to have a higher likelihood of containing lead such as: inexpensive, metal childrens costume jewelry (often found in vending machines); and vinyl nap mats, raincoats, backpacks, lunchboxes, teething/bath books, beach balls, rubber ducks, and dolls.
  • The following items may also contain lead but are less commonly found in child care settings: vinyl pencil cases; old, imported or handmade pottery (i.e. childrens tea sets); imported candies; antique toys; and inexpensive items often made outside of the U.S.
  • Avoid purchasing these products and dispose of them if already owned.

A small child holding a beach ball at the beach.


Environmental Protection Agency: Lead

EPA’s 3Ts For Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Toolkit

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education program

Lead Hotline—The National Lead Information Center
1-800-424-LEAD (5323)