California Department of Public Health logo: three likenesses of people colored blue, green, and orange  
child and windowsill

Lead Poisoning

Join our list

Get updates on our project activities and new features of our website. Sign up for our newsletter here.

Contact Us

California Environmental Health Tracking Program

850 Marina Bay Pkwy, P-3
Richmond, CA 94804

(510) 620-3038
E-Mail Us
Last Edited: 9/28/2010

Lead Poisoning: Who is at Risk?

Although people of all ages are susceptible to lead poisoning, children under six years old and fetuses are at greatest risk of harmful health effects from lead poisoning.  This is because their brains and nervous systems are still forming.


  • Young children frequently crawl on floors or furniture contaminated with lead dust and put their hands or other objects in their mouths
  • More of the lead that gets into their mouth is taken up into their bodies
  • Much more of the lead is stored in their bones
  • Lead can be measured in their blood and remains in their bodies for a long time

Adults who work in jobs or hobbies where they work with lead may bring the lead dust home on their clothes or equipment and expose household members.  These people should be aware of the risks of lead poisoning.

More information regarding increased risk factors may be found below:

What children have a higher risk of coming into contact with lead?

  • Young children under six years of age who spend time in homes, childcare centers, or buildings built before 1978 that have chipping or peeling paint-- the old paint may still have lead in it
  • Young children who play in bare soil-- they may get it in their mouths
  • Young children who eat non-food items
    • This behavior is known as “pica"
    • This may be more common in children with a diet low in iron and calcium
  • Children who have recently come from or who spend time in other countries where more lead is found
  • Children whose mothers have a history of lead exposure or lead poisoning
  • Pregnant women exposed to lead should ask their doctor about a blood test
    • Lead crosses the placenta and has harmful effects on the fetus
    • An infant born to a mother with an elevated level of lead in her blood would be at risk for lead poisoning

Visit the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch for more information on who should worry about lead poisoning.


Back to top


What activities or living situations may increase the risk of lead poisoning?

  • 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
  • Age: under 6 years
    • More time spent on floor
    • Increased hand to mouth behavior
    • High absorption of lead
    • Rapid central nervous system development
    • Peak risk: ages 1-2 years
  • 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, or spends time outside of the U.S.
  • Pica-- ingestion of non-food items such as pottery, clay, dirt, plaster and paint chips
  • Family member with hobby exposure (e.g.  stained glass, ceramics, firearms, fishing)
  • Use of certain imported remedies, supplements, or cosmetics
  • Use of some types of traditional, imported, or handmade dishware
  • Consumption of lead contaminated foods (e.g. Chapulines, some Mexican candy, some imported spices)
  • Exposure to lead contaminated consumer products
  • Living near source of lead air emissions
  • Exposure to lead contaminated water source

Visit the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch for more information on the risk factors for lead poisoning.


Back to top