Lead is a highly toxic substance in which any exposure is known to cause a variety of health problems, especially in children. These injuries, which are often irreversible, will affect children throughout their lives and may impede their future success. The National Safety Council estimates that there are more than 400,000 children under the age of six who have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Children can be exposed to lead in several ways. The most common way, however, is for children to come in contact with lead-based paint in their own homes through chewing on woodwork or just common hand to mouth contact. Children can unintentionally ingest lead particles. Any child living in a house built prior to 1978 could be at risk for lead poisoning and should be tested.


The formation and usage of lead pigments were known over a century ago to cause serious illness and in some cases death among workers and the public. Workers became ill in all steps of the manufacturing process and in the application of the paint. Many suffered from painter’s colic, better known as plumbism, which is a toxic condition produced by the absorption of excessive lead into the system. Often workers were sent to the hospital for lead poisoning within the first month of employment.

Not only had the paint manufacturers identified and admitted the dangerous nature of lead, the international community had as well. At the 1921 Third International Labor Conference of the League of Nations held in Geneva, 400 delegates from 40 nations discussed the regulation of the lead trade. The United States did not attend the Conference and did not agree to the resolution to ban lead-based paints from homes. It was not until 1977 that the federal government prohibited the use of lead paint from most residential applications. From 1910 through 1977, over 4,000 tons of lead pigments were used in homes and products throughout the United States.

Dangers of Lead

Lead poisoning can cause serious health problems for children, especially those under the age of seven because their brains and central nervous systems are still developing. Lead most commonly enters the body through swallowing and then travels to the stomach. Once in the stomach, there are a variety of factors that determine how much of the lead enters the blood stream, including the person’s age, when the last meal was eaten, and how well the particles dissolve in the stomach juices. Once the lead leaves the stomach, it travels to the blood and soft tissues, including the brain, liver, kidney, lungs, spleen, muscles, and heart, eventually depositing itself in the teeth and bones. On average, 73% of all lead in a child’s body is stored in the bones. There are certain instances where lead can leave the bones and reenter the blood stream and soft tissues. These instances include pregnancy, breastfeeding, if one has broken a bone, or during the regular aging process.

Children’s bodies are significantly more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults. Adult bodies flush out, through waste, almost 99% of the lead taken in. Children, on the other hand, have an alarmingly low expulsion rate of 32%. A child’s body not only absorbs more lead than an adults, it retains more of what it absorbs. This build up of lead in a child’s body could eventually cause serious and irreversible damage.