The Cost of Childhood Lead Poisoning & Tips to Protect Your Family


There are at least 4 million households with children who are exposed to high levels of lead in the United States today. There is no level of lead exposure that is safe for children. For infants and very young children, lead exposure has been linked to behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, lower IQ, hearing problems and anemia. In a study on the cost of environmental disease in children, childhood lead poisoning was estimated to cost the U.S. nearly $6 million in medical care in one year.

Why is the drinking water in Tennessee schools tested for lead?

There are many sources of lead exposure in the environment. It is important to reduce all lead exposures as much as possible. Lead exposure from tap water comes from the decay of plumbing or the solder that connects pipes. The risk is higher in older buildings. Water that remains in pipes overnight or when schools are not in session stays in contact with lead pipes or lead solder and could contain higher levels of lead. In Tennessee, the state has taken action to prevent children from being exposed to elevated levels of lead while in school. The legislation took effect in January 2019 and requires school districts to implement policies to test for lead in drinking water throughout its schools. You can read more about this state legislation as well how lead impacts a child’s development here.

What are some steps parents and caregivers can take to protect their families?

·         Use cold flushed tap water for mixing formuladrinking, or cooking. If you are in an older home, run the water for several minutes before using it in the morning and start with cold water for drinking or cooking.

·         Be alert for chipping, flaking and peeling paint. Make sure painted surfaces are properly maintained.

·         Use only safe interior paints on toys, walls, furniture, etc.

·         Replace any vinyl mini-blinds made outside the United States with a type that is lead-free.

·         Clean or remove your shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.

·         Clean your home regularly. Wipe down floors and other level surfaces with a damp mop or sponge.

·         Find safe play areas (such as lead-free sand or grassy areas).

·         Teach your children to wash their hands, especially before eating. Wash pacifiers and toys regularly.

·         If your work or hobbies involve lead, change your clothes and shoes and shower when finished. Keep your clothes at work or wash your work clothes as soon as possible.

·         Don’t let children eat things that fall on the ground or chew on painted surfaces.

·         Don’t let children wear imported jewelry that may contain lead.

·         You can get information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission about products that are recalled due to lead.

If you think that you or your child has been exposed to lead, including lead in water, contact your health care provider. Most children and adults who are exposed to lead have no symptoms. The only way to tell if you or your child has been exposed is with a blood test. Your health care provider can help you decide whether a blood lead test is needed and can also recommend appropriate follow-up actions if you or your child has been exposed.

Additional Resources

Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

Tennessee Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

Tennessee Healthy Homes – Lead

Tennessee Healthy Homes – Drinking Water