Smarter Living: Chemical Index

Lead, a heavy metal found in a variety of consumer products, can damage the developing brain and nervous system, lowing IQ and increasing hyperactivity.

Health Concerns

More than 300,000 children in the United States suffer from lead poisoning, and countless more have unhealthy levels of lead in their blood. Lead causes brain, kidney and cardiovascular damage in both adults and children. Even in small amounts, lead can lower a child’s IQ level, shorten their attention span, and increase hyperactivity and aggressive behavior in children.

Where it is Found

Most lead contamination in air and soil comes from coal-fired power plants, smelters, metal-working and other industrial facilities, hazardous waste sites, battery manufacturing and car repair shops.

Though the use of lead in paint was banned in 1978, older homes may have several layers of lead paint. In other countries lead is still used in paints and glazes for dishware and pottery that is sold in the United States. Lead can also be found in solders used in paned windows and stained glass.

Lead has been found in paint on imported toys, in children’s metal costume jewelry, and in imported candy. Some hair dyes which gradually darken the hair contain lead. It is also found in bullets, making target practice and firearm cleaning potential routes of lead exposure.

Lead is still used in some traditional medicines from China and Mexico and in lead-acid batteries, such as car batteries.

Stay Safe

If your house was built prior to the mid-1970s and you’re planning to renovate—or if you notice any peeling paint—get the paint checked for lead, especially if it's peeling. See the Environmental Protection Agency's lead pages for information about testing.

Test your tap water for lead. Visit the EPA's National Lead Information Center to find a qualified lead-testing lab, or contact your state or local health department.

Test painted toys, costume jewelry and imported pottery with lead swabs, available at hardware stores.

If you paint, create pottery or make jewelry, check the ingredients of all your supplies for lead.

Avoid traditional medicines unless you know exactly what they contain.

Take Action

We need to get lead out of our homes and out of the environment. NRDC is pushing the EPA to improve its air monitoring network for lead pollution and is urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission to improve its oversight of imported toys and products to ensure that they are lead-free. Support NRDC in it's efforts to safeguard our homes and communities.

Learn More

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Statement for Lead, August 2007.

Do You Live Near a Lead Polluter?

Protect Your Kids From Lead

NRDC Protecting People From Unsafe Chemicals

last revised 12/28/2011

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