Explaining the dangers of lead

People need timely and clear information about the risk and what to do about it

About 24 million U.S. homes1 still have lead paint, dust or soil hazards. Approximately 6.1 million get their water through lead service lines. Around half a million children2 have elevated blood lead levels – and poor and minority children remain at the greatest risk. Nationwide, lead can be found in and around their homes, yet most Americans view lead as an isolated threat that does not affect them.

Too often, parents first learn about lead hazards at home when the doctor tells them that their child has lead in his or her blood. Doctors and public health officials play a critical role in educating people about lead exposure. And many of the tools to identify and manage or eliminate lead hazards already exist. But such tools are only effective if people understand the threat and appreciate that they can reduce their risk of exposure.

We need a new approach to raise awareness about lead poisoning.

When we talk about lead

  • Disclose information about lead hazards early and clearly. When people buy or rent a home, they need to be told clearly and definitely about lead in paint, dust, soil and water in their home. This information should be included in decision making about where to live.
  • Make lead poisoning prevention a basic tenant of children's health. Doctors, health, housing and education officials need to understand the risks and raise awareness in their communities. Screenings and blood tests to detect lead exposure should be a regular part of every child's preventive care routine.

How we talk about lead

  • Talk about all lead hazards. When we communicate to a family about lead paint, but not pipes, it is a wasted opportunity and can be misleading. Information about both lead hazards must be integrated so families and professionals understand the entire scope of the threat.
  • Promote low-cost, straightforward testing. We need to encourage routine testing to identify hazards. This testing should be affordable, readily available, easy to use, and provide results that make sense.
  • Make solutions easy to find and do. The easier it is for residents and property-owners to address the hazard, the more they are likely to act. Information about how to eliminate lead hazards – such as which contractor is trained in lead-safe work practices, how to install a water filter, or when to replace lead service lines – should be easy to find and follow.

Media contact

Keith Gaby (202) 572-3336 (office)
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  1. "Healthy People 2020," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  2. "Blood Lead Levels in Children Aged 1–5 Years — United States, 1999–2010," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention