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NM EPHT Health Effects: Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk

Exposure, Risk, and Protection

Exposure and Risk

The major source of lead exposure among children is lead-based paint and lead-containing dust found in older buildings. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. Houses and other buildings built before 1978, especially those built before 1950, may contain lead-based paint. If you live in or regularly visit homes built before 1978, you may be at risk for lead exposure and poisoning. This includes grandparents’ or other family members’ homes and in-home daycares.

Deteriorating paint (chipping, flaking, and peeling) and paint disturbed during home remodeling add to lead dust, contaminate soils around the home, and make paint and chips and dust-containing lead accessible to children. Children can be exposed to lead by eating lead-based paint chips, chewing on objects painted with lead-based paint, sucking on jewelry that contains lead, or swallowing house dust or soil that contains lead.

Lead exposure may come from sources other than housing, such as:

  • Hobbies that include the use of lead (such as making stained glass windows, hunting, fishing, target shooting).
  • Work that includes the use of lead, such as recycling or making automotive batteries, painting, radiator repair.
  • “Take home” lead on clothes worn at work can transfer in the car and home.
  • Drinking water (lead pipes, solder, brass fixtures, and valves can all leach lead).
  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain (lead can leach in food from these sources).
  • Folk medicines and remedies (azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion; pay-loo-ah, which is used for rash or fever; kohl or alkohl, which is used as eye cosmetic, to treat skin infections, or as umbilical stump remedy).
  • Some jewelry and types of metal toy jewelry or older toys.
  • Plants and animals from areas where air, water, or soil are contaminated with lead (the amounts of lead may build up in plants and if animals eat contaminated plants or other animals some lead may retain in their bodies).


All children under age of 6 years old have high potential for exposure to lead and lead poisoning because they tend to put hands or other objects that may contain lead into their mouths. Children from all social and economic levels can be affected by lead poisoning, but children living at or below poverty level, who live in older housing built before 1978, are at greatest risk for lead poisoning.

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Prevention and Protection

You can protect your family by understanding common ways a person can be exposed and minimizing those exposures. Then take other actions for protection, such as frequently cleaning, washing hands, good nutrition, and by removing common items in the home that may contain lead, such as home remedies, some jewelry, and certain toys.

To protect yourself and your family:

  • Take simple steps to reduce your exposure to lead:
    For example,
    • By cleaning or removing shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
    • By showering and changing clothes after finishing the task if you remodel buildings built before 1978 or if your work or hobbies involve working with lead-based products.
    • By washing hands frequently and when entering your home.
  • Ask a doctor to test your child if you are concerned about a child being exposed to lead.
  • Talk to the New Mexico Department of Health (at the toll free phone number 1-888-878-8992 or DOH-EHEB@state.nm.us) about testing paint and dust from your home for lead if you live in a house or apartment built before 1978, especially if young children live with you or visit you.
  • Damp-mop floors, damp-wipe surfaces, and often wash a child’s hands (especially before they eat and before nap time and bed time), pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals to reduce exposure to lead. REMEMBER: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH PRODUCTS TOGETHER BECAUSE THEY CAN FORM A DANGEROUS GAS.
  • Use only cold water from the tap for drinking, cooking, and for making a baby formula. Hot water may contain a higher amount of lead, and most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the public water supply.
  • Avoid using home remedies and cosmetics, such as azarcon, greta, pay-loo-ah, kohl, alkohl, that contain lead.
  • Check your home for items that may potentially contain lead, such as jewelry, toys, and older painted furniture that may be chipping.
  • Make sure children eat healthy and nutritious meals as recommended by the National Dietary Guidelines, because children with good diets absorb less lead. A diet high in vitamin C, iron, and calcium can help reduce lead absorption.

To find out more about lead, lead sources, and lead exposure prevention, visit:

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Links for more information

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