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Most lead-poisoned children are asymptomatic. If present, symptoms typically are nonspecific complaints, such as stomachache, irritability, headache, fatigue, or loss of appetite. The only way to diagnose lead poisoning is to obtain a blood lead level (BLL).

Clinical Signs & Symptoms



​less than 10 mcg/dLDecreased IQ, developmental toxicity (No known lower level for effects)​
​10 - 44 mcg/dLBehavior problems (hyperactivity, irritability), overt physical symptoms rare​
​45 - 69 mcg/dLApathy/fatigue, anemia, abdominal symptoms (pain, constipation, nausea/vomiting)​
​70 - 100 mcg/dLNephropathy, colic, encephalopathy​
​> 100 mcg/dLCNS crisis (cerebral edema, ischemia, seizure, coma, possible death)​

Risk Factors

  • Age: under 6 years
    • More time spent on floor GettyImages-178164812.jpg
    • Increased hand-to-mouth behavior
    • High absorption of lead
    • Rapid central nervous system development
    • Peak risk: ages 1-2 years
  • Lives or spends significant amounts of time in pre-1978 housing/buildings with paint in poor condition or undergoing renovation
  • Exposure to lead-contaminated dust or soil
  • Low income
  • Family member who works with lead
  • Sibling with elevated blood lead level
  • Mother with history of lead exposure/lead poisoning
  • Recent immigration/foreign adoptee from region with high environmental lead levels, or spends time outside of the U.S.
  • Pica (ingestion of non-food items such as paint chips, dirt, plaster, clay, pottery)
  • Family member with hobby exposure (e.g., stained glass, ceramics, firearms, fishing)
  • Use of certain imported remedies/supplements/cosmetics
  • Use of some types of traditional/imported/handmade dishware
  • Consumption of lead-contaminated foods (e.g., Chapulines, some Mexican candy, some imported spices)
  • Exposure to lead-contaminated consumer products
  • Lives near source of lead air emissions
  • Exposure to lead-contaminated water source


ATSDR Toxicological Profile for Lead

Sources of Lead ExposureGettyImages-612620400.jpg

Lead-based paint (pre-1978)

It may have been used both inside and outside of a home or on objects such as furniture.  Children may eat paint chips or chew on the surfaces of windows, woodwork, walls, doors, or railings.

Further information on housing and abatement

Lead-contaminated soil

Lead may be in the soil where children play, especially near busy roadways or factories.  The lead from gasoline used for many years has settled onto soil and is difficult to remove.  Lead in soil may also be from other sources of air emissions and deteriorated lead-based paint on homes.  This soil may also be tracked inside on shoes and clothing.

Lead-contaminated dust from paint or soil

It clings to windowsills, floors, doorways and children's toys, and is dangerous to young children who crawl and often put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

Take-home exposure

Lead can be in the dust brought home on clothing, equipment, or in the car or truck driven from work.  Lead dust can also come from hobbies that use lead.

Further information regarding occupational lead

Imported food


Some imported candies, especially those that contain chili, have been found to contain lead.  Lead has also been found in wrappers and ceramic candy containers.

Food and Spices

Lead has been found in some imported food including Chapulines (grasshoppers), sweet cured plums, spices, and food in cans with lead solder (these cans have wide seams, and are not used in the U.S.)

Home Remedies and Cosmetics

Some remedies and cosmetics imported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico have been found to contain lead.  The remedies are often bright yellow or orange in color.

Imported or Handmade Pottery and Tableware with Leaded Glaze

The lead from the glaze can leach into food and beverages when these ceramics are used for cooking or storing food.

Consumer Products


Lead has been found in children's jewelry and costume jewelry.  Children can be exposed to lead by handling, mouthing, or swallowing the jewelry.

Other Consumer Products

Lead has been found in toys, vinyl lunch boxes, and other consumer products

Other Resources

Patient Education

Health Education Materials

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