Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health and school readiness. There is no safe blood lead level for children. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect intelligence quotient (IQ), attention span, and academic achievement. The most important step adults can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.
Children under the age of 6 years old are at risk for lead poisoning because they are developing so rapidly and tend to put their hands or other objects into their mouths, which may be contaminated with lead dust. Children at higher risk for lead exposure often fall into at least one of the following groups:
- Members of racial or ethnic minority groups
- Recent immigrants
- Have parents who are exposed to lead at work
- Live in older, poorly maintained rental properties or areas with outdated plumbing
Check out the Office of Head Start blog on Lead Exposure.
Lead screening measures the amount of lead in blood and determines a child's risk for poisoning. Head Start programs must work with parents to ensure all enrolled children are screened for blood lead levels. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires universal blood lead screening for all Medicaid-eligible children, under their states' Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Testing (EPSDT) schedule. As of 2012, states may apply for a waiver to transition to targeted screening. Contact your state Medicaid office to determine if your state is using a targeted approach to blood lead testing.
Know the Facts
Know the Facts
The most important step parents, staff, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs. Health managers and program staff are encouraged to share these helpful brochures with families.
Prevent Lead Poisoning During Pregnancy
Lead poisoning is caused by breathing or swallowing lead. Lead can pass from a mother to her unborn baby. Pregnancy is an important time to keep your babies safe from lead poisoning. Learn what Head Start staff can share with pregnant women on how to prevent lead exposure.
Lead and Our Children: The Role of Early Care and Education Programs
View this webinar to understand the importance of screening and testing children exposed to lead. Find out how to prevent children's exposure to lead both at home and in the program. Also, learn screening and prevention strategies to implement in your program.
Lead Testing in Children
Lead Screening: Well-Child Health Care Fact Sheet
Learn the basics of lead screening. Discover what lead screening is and how it is done. All Medicaid-eligible children should receive a blood-level lead screening at 12 months and 24 months of age. Read how families can prevent lead exposure, behavioral and learning difficulties, and other medical problems lead exposure can cause.
EPSDT Benefits [PDF, 232KB]
EPSDT service is a comprehensive prevention and treatment program for children managed by CMS. One part of the EPSDT requirement is lead toxicity testing. CMS requires that all children receive a screening blood lead test at 12 months and 24 months of age. Children between the ages of 36 months and 72 months of age must receive a screening blood lead test if they have not been previously screened for lead poisoning. A blood lead test must be used when screening Medicaid-eligible children.
Strategies for Meeting the Lead Screening Requirement in Head Start
These steps outline strategies to assist programs in meeting the CMS lead screening requirements. Ask your Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC) to organize outreach to community providers or identify alternative providers of blood level lead screening services.
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention: State and Local Programs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promotes a coordinated, comprehensive, and holistic approach to preventing diseases and injuries that result from housing-related hazards and deficiencies. Explore this resource to learn out about specific state or local area programs that support childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts. These efforts include strengthening blood lead testing and reporting, surveillance, linking children to recommended follow-up services, and targeted population-based interventions.
Effects of Lead on Young Children
How Lead Poisoning Hurts Your Children
Children, especially those under age 6, are more vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning because they are still growing and developing. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in a child's body. Lead poisoning cannot be reversed or undone. A young child with lead poisoning may not develop new skills at the same speed as other children. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
- Attention deficit disorders as they get older
- Behavior and learning problems
- Hearing problems
- Lower IQ
- Slowed growth
Developmental Screening – Child Development: Learn the Signs. Act Early.
Screening for potential developmental delays in children allows for early treatment and supportive services. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) "Learn the Signs. Act Early." campaign offers Head Start educators and families a number of resources on developmental screening tools.
Tips for Keeping Children Safe: A Developmental Guide
Preventing access to lead is an important way to keep children safe. This tool provides safety tips for early childhood staff working with young children in classroom environments. Each section includes a description of development and safety tips organized by daily routines. Some tips apply to all children. Others address the developmental needs of children in a specific age group. If children in your classroom fit more than one developmental level, review the safety tips for each.
Watch for Signs of Lead Exposure
It is important to protect children from exposure to lead for their lifelong health and well-being. There is no safe blood lead level in children. Even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to affect children’s IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected. Review this chart to learn about milestones and signs of potential delays due to lead exposure.
Preventing Lead Exposure and Poisoning
Protect Your Child from the Effects of Lead
Proper nutrition is one way to protect your child from the effects of lead. Feed your child healthy foods with calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Foods high in calcium or iron help keep lead from being absorbed by the body. Calcium helps make teeth and bones strong. Foods high in iron help keep lead from being absorbed by the body. Try to include the following foods in meals and snacks:
- Calcium is in milk, yogurt, cheese, and green leafy vegetables like spinach.
- Iron is in lean red meats, beans, peanut butter, and cereals.
- Vitamin C is in oranges, green and red peppers, and juice.
A Healthy Home for Everyone [PDF, 1.7MB]
Unhealthy housing conditions may seem like cosmetic problems. But hazards can lurk where you least expect them: Peeling paint can contain lead; too much moisture can result in mold; and clutter can shelter insects and rodents. Some deadly hazards are invisible, such as carbon monoxide and radon.
Play It Safe: Reduce Your Child's Chances of Pesticide Poisoning
The "Play It Safe" campaign was created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to raise awareness of health risks associated with pesticide exposure, improper use and storage of pesticide, and pest prevention. The brochure offers campaign materials for Head Start management, staff, and families.
How to Protect Your Children from Lead Poisoning
Share this resource with parents so they learn to recognize where lead is found and how it gets into the body. It also discusses how to avoid lead exposure whenever possible.
Protect Your Family from Exposures to Lead
The CDC offers information on sources of lead in homes and how to make your home lead-safe.
- Older homes and buildings
- Soil, yards, and playgrounds
- Cleaning products
- Drinking water
- Jobs and hobbies
- Folk remedies
Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR): Find Out If Lead Is in Your Drinking Water
The EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual CCR water quality report for their customers by July 1 of each year. Contact your water utility if you'd like to receive a copy of their latest report. If your water comes from a household well or other private water supply, check with your health department, or with any nearby water utilities that use ground water, for information on contaminants of concern in your area. Share this printable fact sheet with families: Is There Lead in My Drinking Water?
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Last Updated: August 23, 2021