Lead Information for Families
This page provides information on how you can reduce your family's risk of lead exposure and prevent lead poisoning.
On this page:
- Sources of lead at home
- How to make your home lead-safe
- Protect your children where they learn and play
On other pages:
Sources of lead at home
- Older homes and buildings
- Soil, yards and playgrounds
- Drinking water
- Jobs and hobbies
- Folk remedies
If your home was built before 1978, there is a good chance it has lead-based paint. The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, but some states banned it even earlier.
Paint chips and dust— Paint chips and dust from deteriorating paint can contain dangerous levels of lead. Just a few granules of lead dust are enough to harm a child. Dust containing lead can be created when painted surfaces rub together, such as when windows, doors or drawers are opened and closed or by walking on stair treads. Check for dust buildup around hinges, window frames and painted drawers. Also be careful of generating dust when hammering, sanding or sawing.
Lead dust can also be tracked into the home from soil outside that is contaminated by deteriorated exterior lead-based paint. Check the exterior of your home, including porches and fences, for flaking or deteriorating paint that may be lead-based. Put doormats outside and inside all entryways, and remove your shoes before entering.
Renovation, repair or painting activities can create toxic lead dust when painted surfaces are disturbed or demolished. Learn more about hiring lead-safe certified contractors.
Pipes and solder— Lead is used in some water service lines and household plumbing materials. Lead can leach, or enter the water, as water flows through the plumbing. Lead pipes and lead solder were commonly used until 1986.
Soil, Yards and Playgrounds
Soil, yards and playgrounds can become contaminated when exterior lead-based paint from houses or buildings flakes or peels and gets into the soil. Soil near roadways may also be contaminated from past use of leaded gasoline in cars and from dust of lead wheel weights that have broken off of passing vehicles. To keep children from playing in soil near your home, plant bushes close to the house.
Older playground equipment can contain lead-based paint, and artificial turf and playground surfaces made from shredded rubber can contain lead.
Lead can be found in many products:
Painted toys, furniture and toy jewelry— That favorite dump truck or rocking chair handed down in the family, antique doll furniture, or toy jewelry could contain lead. Biting or swallowing toys or toy jewelry that contain lead can cause a child to suffer from lead poisoning.
Food or liquid containers— Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain can become contaminated because lead can leach in from these containers.
- Plumbing products— Materials like pipes and fixtures that contain lead can corrode over time.
Lead can enter drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content, and corrodes pipes and fixtures. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: even legally "lead-free" plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.
Corrosion is a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. A number of factors are involved in the extent to which lead enters the water including the chemistry of the water (acidity and alkalinity), the amount of lead it comes into contact with, how long the water stays in the plumbing materials, and the presence of protective scales or coatings inside the plumbing materials.
To address corrosion of lead and copper into drinking water , EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The LCR requires corrosion control treatment as the primary means of preventing lead and copper from contaminating drinking water. Corrosion control treatment means systems must make drinking water less corrosive to the materials it comes into contact with on its way to consumers' taps.
Jobs and Hobbies
You could bring lead home on your hands or clothes, or contaminate your home directly if you:
- work with lead (mining, smelting, battery recycling, refinishing old furniture, etc.) or,
- have a hobby that uses lead (hunting, fishing, stained glass, stock cars, making pottery, etc.).
► Read more on best management practices for lead at outdoor shooting ranges (PDF) (103 pp, 2.4MB, About PDF).
If you have a job or hobby where you may come into contact with lead:
- shower and change clothes before coming home,
- launder your work and hobby clothes separately from the rest of your family's clothes,
- keep all work and hobby materials away from living areas.
If someone in your family is a renovator or contractor working in older housing, find out more about lead-safe work practices.
Some folk remedies that contain lead, such as "greta" and “azarcon,” are used to treat an upset stomach. Some folk remedies for morning sickness, including "nzu", "poto" and "calabash chalk," contain dangerous levels of lead and other chemicals. Consuming even small amounts of lead can be harmful. There is no safe blood lead level. Lead poisoning from folk remedies can cause illness.
How to make your home lead-safe
Test Your Home
If your home was built before 1978, have your home tested for lead and learn about potential lead hazards. Fix any hazards that you may have. You can get your home checked in one or both of the following ways:
- A paint inspection — Tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home, but does not tell you if the paint is a hazard or how to deal with it.
- A risk assessment — Tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure such as peeling paint and lead dust, and tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.
Have qualified professionals do the work. There are standards in place for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure the work is done safely, reliably, and effectively.
- Learn more about Testing Your Home for Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil (PDF). (20 pp, 205K, About PDF)
- Locate a trained professional in your area who can evaluate and test your home for lead.
Before you renovate
- Find a lead-safe certified renovation firm in your area. Renovations, repair jobs and paint jobs in pre-1978 homes and buildings can create significant amounts of lead-based paint dust. If your contractor will disturb lead-based paint while renovating, repairing or painting your home, he or she must be trained in lead-safe work practices.
- Read EPA's fact sheet on using a lead-safe certified contractor (PDF). (1 pg, 340K, About PDF)
- If you are a do-it yourselfer, learn how to protect yourself and your family from exposure to lead-based paint.
- If you are a renter, learn your rights.
Test your home's drinking water
Testing your home's drinking water is the only way to confirm if lead is present. Most water systems test for lead at a certain number of homes as a regular part of water monitoring. These tests give a system-wide picture of whether or not corrosion is being controlled but do not reflect conditions at each home served by that water system. Since each home has different plumbing pipes and materials, test results are likely to be different for each home.
You may want to test your water if:
- your home has lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key), or
- your non-plastic plumbing was installed before 1986.
There are testing kits available in many home improvement stores that will measure lead in drinking water. Once the sample is collected, EPA recommends sending it to a certified laboratory for analysis; lists are available from your state or local drinking water authority. Your water supplier may also have useful information, including whether the service line connecting your home to the water main is made of lead.
Read more information about testing your water for lead or call EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.
If you home tests positive for lead:
- Flush your pipes before drinking, and only use cold water for cooking and drinking. Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, flush your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes cold. Your water utility will inform you if longer flushing times are needed to respond to local conditions.
- Consider replacing lead-containing plumbing fixtures. If you are considering this, keep in mind that the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires that only lead-free pipe, solder, or flux may be used in the installation or repair of a public water system, or any plumbing in residential or non-residential facility providing water for human consumption. "Lead-free" under the SDWA means that solders and flux may not contain more than 0.2 percent lead, and pipe, pipe fittings, and well pumps may not contain more than 8.0 percent lead. Beginning January 2014, changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act will further reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to 0.25 percent.
SDWA also requires plumbing fittings and fixtures intended to dispense water for human consumption (e.g., kitchen and bathroom faucets) meet a lead leaching standard. Those fittings and fixtures should be certified according to NSF/ANSI Standard 61 for lead reduction .
- Consider alternative sources or treatment of water. If you discover that you have high levels of lead in your home, you should consider purchasing bottled water or a water filter. There are many home water filters that are certified for effective lead reduction, but devices that are not designed to remove lead will not work. Verify the claims of manufacturers by checking with independent certifying organizations. NSF International and the Water Quality Association provide lists of treatment devices they have certified. Underwriters Laboratories is also a good resource for certified devices. Be sure to maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions to protect water quality.
Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for maintenance procedures. If not maintained properly, some treatment devices may increase lead and other contaminant levels.
Protect Your Children Where They Learn and Play
Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. Learn what you can do to stop children from coming into contact with lead before they are harmed.
Test your child
Find out if your child has elevated blood lead levels. Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. You can test your child for lead poisoning by asking your pediatrician to do a simple blood test. Children with elevated blood lead levels can have serious health effects.
Check the condition of schools and childcare facilities
Although your home may be free of lead-based paint hazards, your child could still be exposed elsewhere, particularly if they spend time in a building built before 1978. If you take your child to school or a day-care center, examine the inside and the outside of the facility for lead hazards. Make sure to look at:
- Interior painted areas— Examine walls and interior surfaces to see if the paint is cracking, chipping, or peeling.
- Exterior painted areas— Check exterior paint as well; it can flake off and contaminate nearby soil where children may play.
- Surrounding areas— Be sure there are no large structures nearby with peeling or flaking paint that could contaminate the soil around play areas.
- Cleaning practices— Make sure the staff washes any pacifiers, toys, or bottles that fall on the floor. Also, make sure the staff has the children wash their hands thoroughly after playing outside and before eating or sleeping.
- Play areas— Look to see if areas where children play are dust-free and clean.
- Playground equipment— Older equipment can contain lead-based paint.
- Painted toys and furniture— Make sure the paint is not cracking, chipping, or peeling. Inquire about whether a childcare center's toys comply with the requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
- Drinking water fountains at school and on the playground.
Make sure your children eat healthy and nutritious meals as recommended by the National Dietary Guidelines. Children with good diets absorb less lead.