Baby chewing on toy. Text states: Ask your doctor to test your child for lead

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Lead Poisoning

Lead is a harmful metal that can cause serious health problems. Lead is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women, but it can harm anyone.

The most commonly identified source of lead poisoning for children in New York City is peeling lead paint and its dust. The most commonly identified source of lead poisoning in adults is job-related exposure in the construction industry. People can also be exposed to lead through the use of lead-contaminated products.

Some spices, medicines, cosmetics and religious powders from South Asia contain lead. Learn more about these and other types of hazardous consumer products.

Health Risks

Lead can get in your body by touching products or surfaces that are covered with lead dust or contain lead, then putting your hands in your mouth. It can also get in your body if you eat, swallow or mouth a product that contains lead. Workers may be exposed to lead by breathing in lead dust or lead fumes during construction activities that disturb old, lead-based paint, such as renovations, repairs and demolition.

Learn more about the risks of lead exposure around you and how to avoid it:

  • Children and Pregnant Women: Lead exposure can delay children’s physical growth and mental development and may cause learning and behavior problems, among other effects. For pregnant women, exposure can harm both the fetus and mother.

  • Adults (PDF): Lead exposure can cause high blood pressure and brain, kidney and reproductive health issues in adults.

Sources of Lead Exposure

  • At Home: More than half of the city’s residential buildings were built before lead paint was banned in 1960. Many of these older buildings still have lead paint on their walls, windows, doors and other surfaces. New York City building owners are required to identify and safely fix lead paint hazards in apartments with young children.

  • Work and Hobbies: Workers or hobbyists can be exposed by breathing in lead dust or lead fumes when working with metal, paint, pigments or glazes that contain lead. Employers are required by law to protect workers from lead exposure.

  • Hazardous Consumer Products: Some health remedies, foods, jewelry, toys and other items have high levels of lead and other dangerous metals, even if they are not listed on the product labels. The more often you use these products, the greater the health risk.

You can also be exposed by drinking water that comes from plumbing fixtures that have lead, or from soil that is contaminated by lead from nearby paint, gasoline or manufacturing.

Get Tested for Lead Poisoning

Most people with lead poisoning do not look or feel sick. The only way to know if lead exposure has occurred is to get a blood lead test. If you think you or other family members are at risk for lead poisoning, ask your doctor for a blood lead test. For help finding a doctor, call 311.

Testing Requirements/Recommendations

  • Children: New York State requires that health care providers test all 1- and 2-year-old children for lead. Children should also be assessed for lead exposure by their doctor every year until they are 6 years old.

  • Pregnant women: Doctors should assess pregnant women for lead exposure during their first prenatal visit.

  • Workers: Workers at risk for lead exposure because of their job should be monitored by their employer. If you work around lead, find out if your employer has a blood lead monitoring program. If not, speak with your doctor about getting a blood lead test.

For more information on lead, call 311 and ask for Healthy Homes Information.

Additional Resources

More Information