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Page last reviewed: April 1, 2024

Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention

Father kissing his baby a kiss on the cheek

What is lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring metal that can cause negative health effects. Lead is harmful to children under the age of six and pregnant persons. CDC currently uses a blood lead reference value (BLRV) of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher is considered elevated. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified and even low levels of lead in blood can cause health concerns. Most children with lead in their blood have no obvious symptoms. A blood lead test is the only way to determine a blood lead level. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about getting a lead test if you believe they have been exposed to lead or at risk of lead exposure. Based on your child’s blood lead test results, healthcare providers can recommend follow-up actions and care.

    Program focus

    Our mission is to reduce the prevalence of childhood lead poisoning in the City of Houston, to educate health care professionals and the general public about the dangers of childhood lead poisoning, and to identify and care for children who have been exposed to lead.

    Who's at greater risk?

    Children are high risk because they:

    • eat and drink more based on their body size when compared to adults.
    • breathe at faster rates when compared to adults.
    • absorb 4-5 times more of the lead they swallow than adults.
    • may be missing key nutrients in their body, such as calcium and iron – so their body mistakenly keeps lead in place of healthy nutrients.
    • often put their hands in their mouths.
    • chew on toys and other household items that may contain lead.

    Other high-risk populations are:

    • immigrants, refugees, or those recently adopted from less developed countries.
    • people who live or spend time with someone who works with lead or has hobbies that expose them to lead.

    People with Pica

    Pica is the uncommon desire to eat nonfood substances that people do not normally eat (dirt, paint chips, and clay).  Pica is most common in 1- and 2-year-old children and usually goes away as they get older. Pica has also been observed in adults, especially during pregnancy. Pica is sometimes a result of a nutritional shortage, such as iron-deficiency anemia.

    Fetuses and nursing babies are also at risk because lead can pass through the placenta to the fetus when the mother is exposed. Lead can also pass-through breast milk to a nursing baby when the mother is exposed.

    Our program’s activities are directed toward:

    • providing education to the general public and health care professionals in relation to screening guidelines and hazards of childhood lead poisoning.
    • assuring that children exposed to lead are screened and provided with follow-up care.
    • offering care coordination to children with elevated blood lead levels.
    • developing and enhancing a surveillance system that monitors blood lead levels.
    • expanding primary prevention in high-risk areas.
    • educating residents and contractors about lead poisoning and how lead hazards can be remediated from residential neighborhoods.

    Lead exposure and your health 

    When lead is swallowed or breathed in, it can cause health problems. Swallowing or breathing in lead can be a serious issue for children because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing.

    Lead exposure can cause problems with:

    • Learning — underperformance in school and lower IQ.
    • Behavior — increased problems with behavior and attention related disorders.
    • Hearing — decreased hearing and speech problems.
    • Growth rates — slowed growth and development 
    • Development of the nervous system — severe damage to the brain, nervous system, and kidneys.

    There is also evidence that childhood exposure to lead can cause long-term harm. A blood lead test is the only way to know if your child has lead exposure.

    Primary ZIP Codes

    Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program serves The City of Houston residents. Children enrolled in Medicaid are required to get tested for lead at 12 and 24 months. High-risk neighborhoods are based on homes built before 1978 and the results of the Blood Lead Surveillance Branch, children 0-5 years with Blood lead levels above CDC’s BLRV are CLPPP’s focusing testing area.

    Zip Codes — 77002 77003 77004 77005 77006 77007 77008 77009 77011 77012 77019 77020 77023 77026 77030 77098

    The 16 high-risk zip codes are defined by the following criteria and reasoning:

    • ≥25% of the households live at or below the poverty level;
      • HCLPPP uses poverty information to determine which areas have a higher percentage of Medicaid children.
    • ≥20% of the residences were built prior to 1950;
      • Pre-1950 housing can be a key indicator of lead-based paint exposure.
    • ≥25% of the population are members of a minority group (those considered to be of a racial or ethnic minority group i.e., groups not identifying as non-Hispanic white; this currently does not include immigrant/refugee population data); and
      • Research indicates that lead exposure can disproportionality affect children belonging to a minority group.
      • Houston’s racial and ethnic composition: 37.3% Anglo, 36.5% Hispanic, 16.9% African American, 7.5% Asian, and 1.8% other.
    • Historical evidence that a significant percentage (≥10%) of children in this area have tested positive for blood lead poisoning.

    Lead-safe homes

    Preventing lead exposure is the first step to keep your child safe. Lead exposure in children primarily comes from inside the home, especially if they live in a home built before 1978

    Visit the Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program and Lead-Safe Housing Registry pages to learn more.

    Follow these safe-lead cleaning tips:

    • Wash toys and flat surfaces — like windowsills and tables — using soapy water.
    • Separate your work clothing from the rest of your laundry. After washing and removing lead-contaminated items from the washing machine, run the rinse cycle once more before using the washing machine again.
    • Take your shoes off before going into your home to avoid tracking lead-containing soil and dust from outside.
    • Vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum.
    • Eat healthy foods with calcium, iron, and vitamin C to limit the amount of lead getting into your body.
    • always wash your hands before eating to keep from accidentally swallowing lead dust.
    • Be cautious of any imported household items or food.

    Possible risks of lead exposure

    People are exposed to lead by eating lead chips, ingesting contaminated food or water, and or by breathing in lead dust. In all parts of our environment lead exposure is possible, including our home.

    Lead in the home can be found in:

      Drinking water

      Lead might get into your drinking water as your water flows through older service lines, plumbing, pipes, and faucets that contain lead. If there is lead in your drinking water, you may be exposed by using water for drinking, cooking, or for rinsing food. TCEQ is offering a free statewide program to help eligible participants conduct voluntary sampling and analysis for lead in drinking water at their schools and childcare facilities. Visit the TCEQ website for more information.


      Lead dust is created when:

      • lead-based paint is scraped, dry sanded, heated or burned.
      • windows and doors that have been painted with lead-based paint rub together.
      • lead-contaminated soil is brought indoors.
      • lead from a job or hobby is brought home on clothes or hands.

      Household items and imported goods

      Lead might be found in products you have in your home. These items include:

      • older, painted toys and furniture.
      • jewelry.
      • cosmetics.
      • cookware including food or liquid containers made of lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery, or porcelain.

      Lead has been found in powders and tablets given for upset stomach, colic, and other illnesses traditionally used by East Indian, African, Middle Eastern, West Asian, and Hispanic cultures. Traditional medicines can contain herbs, spices minerals, metals, or animal products that are thought to be useful in treating some ailments.

      Job and hobbies

      Some jobs and hobbies can result in lead exposure, including:

      • renovating and painting.
      • refinishing old furniture.
      • auto body work.
      • hunting. 
      • fishing.
      • making pottery.


      Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint. Lead was often added to paint used in homes built before 1978. In 1978, the federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in homes. Lead-based paint is a problem when it is peeling, cracking, or chipping.


      Lead naturally exists in the environment. Soil can have lead from natural sources or can be contaminated from:

      • lead-based paint.
      • lead dust.
      • leaded gasoline.
      • nearby factories or businesses that use lead.