Lead Exposure: Should Your Child Be Tested?

Jul 20, 2022


When you think of lead, you might think of pencils—but in fact, the classic yellow pencil contains graphite instead of lead. The switch was prompted because lead is a toxic metal that is dangerous, especially to children. And it’s found in many more places and products than you might expect.

Lead exposure can harm children

Children’s developing bodies and brains can be negatively impacted by exposure to lead. Lead exposure can harm a child’s nervous system and brain while they are still forming. Even small amounts of lead in the body can make it hard for children to learn, pay attention and succeed in school.

Lead exposure can also lead to a low blood count (anemia), and higher amounts of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys and other major organs. Very high exposure can lead to seizures or death.

Lead can be found throughout a child’s environment

Lead can be found in numerous products and areas where children spend time, including in places they play and learn.

Your child may benefit from screening for lead exposure if:

  • Your child is under 6 years of age and spends time in homes, childcare centers or buildings built before 1978
  • A family member works with lead at their job or as part of a hobby, such as fishing with lead sinkers, stained glass making or hunting or target shooting with leaded bullets
  • You live near a busy roadway or industrial source of lead in the air or soil
  • Your child is exposed to lead from another source, such as:
    • Drinking or eating from imported dishes, pots, water crocks or older dishware
    • Some traditional remedies and cosmetics (Greta, Azarcon, Paylooah, Surma, Sindoor and Kohl)
    • Some foods and brightly colored spices, such as chapulines and imported chili powder, turmeric and khmeli suneli

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists additional sources of lead exposure.

Screening for lead exposure is simple and free

Most children will not look or act sick, so a blood test for lead is the only way to find out if they have lead poisoning. Your medical provider can help determine if your child is at risk for lead, and they can work with you and local agencies to help remove the source of the lead and treat your child if necessary.

Most states require pediatricians and other providers to screen children for possible lead exposure, especially for children who are enrolled in Medicaid or other supplemental program. If your child is at risk, a simple blood test can determine their exposure. Blood tests for lead exposure are free and are covered by health insurance.

Looking for a new healthcare provider for your child? Find an Adventist Health provider near you.